Summer squash loves the heat and in as little as sixty days can be on your dinner table, prepared in a multitude of ways. Highly productive as crops and tasty on the menu. You’ll be glad you dedicated a part of your home garden to their cultivation.
Summer Squash vs. Winter Squash What’s the Difference?
Is there a difference? Most definitely. Squash is generally placed in one of two categories: summer or winter. Summer squash is a raid grower and will need roughly two months to harvest. It can be harvested throughout the summer even if the plant is still young. Skins are more tender and thinner, and these varieties of squash tend to be quite prolific in their production.
Selecting a Squash Variety
The choice of which squash you want to cultivate will depend largely on what you want to use it for. If you plan on cultivating to eat immediately, avoid selecting one that requires time for sweetening.
Popular summer squash varieties include:
They are all prolific producers and are ready to eat upon harvest. Cultivars of the Cucurbita pepo species, summer squash will usually be yellow or green, perhaps both, and will grow in a variety of shapes and sizes. And how you prepare them once in the kitchen is equally varied: baked, grilled, roasted, sauteed, shredded, spiraled, or even as a puree. So, there are endless ways to enjoy your harvest.
When to Plant Summer Squash
Because this is a heat-loving crop, it should not be planted until the ground temperature reaches about 70° Fahrenheit. It can be cultivated directly from seed, but if you want a head start, consider beginning seeds indoors. Do this three to four weeks before the final frost is expected in your area.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Prepare a container or separate pots with seed starter mix. Plant seeds one inch deep. If you use pots, only use two seeds per pot. Your seed starter mix should be kept at a temperature ranging from 70° to 95° F. (You can use a heating pad for seedlings.) Within ten days your seeds should begin to germinate. Thin out the seedlings to a maximum of one per pot.
When growing indoors use a grow lamp or ensure that they receive sufficient light. Before you will be able to transplant seedlings into your outdoor garden bed, they will need to be hardened off by introducing them to the outdoor environment gradually including sunlight exposure. Begin by placing your seedlings outdoors for a half-hour daily and increase each day. After approximately a week they should be ready to manage eight hours of sun daily.
Selecting a Location
Summer squash plants generally are bush plants, in contrast with winter squash that tends to be vining. In any case, they will require space. Plan on selecting a space that will permit you to plant summer squash plants at least thirty inches apart. Because these plants are so productive, you will not require many plants to achieve a good harvest. The location should provide six to eight hours of full sun per day during the growing season.
Once you have selected your crop’s location, the soil bed should be amended with a very generous amount of aged manure and shredded foliage or compost. These amendments will help meet all nutrient requirements for your plants and will improve soil bed aeration and drainage, both of which are fundamental to successful summer squash cultivation.
Ideally, the soil pH should measure between 6.0 and 6.5. by using a soil tester, you can check the pH level as well as discover any nutrient deficiencies.
Once you have planted your seedlings, mulch around the plants with two to three inches of straw or shredded foliage to prevent weeds from invading and stealing nutrients. This will also assist the soil bed in retaining moisture and avoid the squash coming into contact with the soil.
If your plants produce lots of blooms and very little squash, there may be a pollination issue. It is possible that pollinators, like bees, are not reaching the blooms. You can resolve this by hand pollinating.
To do so, identify male and female flowers. Female flowers possess a small embryonic fruit, which male flowers do not, that rests between the flower and the stem. Identify a male bloom and peel back flower petals to reveal the anther which will be covered in pollen. Using the anther, brush the stigma of a female bloom and then close the bloom. Fix it shut with a clothespin and allow the process of pollination to complete.
Watering Summer Squash
These plants require approximately one inch of water weekly. You may need to increase this to two inches if the summer is very hot. If it rains an inch per week, you’ll be fine, if not, supplement the difference.
Do not water your squash plants from overhead, always opt to water at the plant base so that foliage will remain dry. Organic mulch will help the soil bed retain moisture and stop weeds from invading, as well as soil-borne diseases from infecting your plants.
Summer squash is a heavy feeder, so begin your crop with properly amended soil. You can also side-dress plants with compost every so often. If you opt for a fertilizer, select an organic fertilizer with an NPK (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium) that features a lower nitrogen content. The first number should be lower for example 4-6-4. Nitrogen assists foliage growth, whereas phosphorous will assist in fruit growth.
Pests and Diseases
There are several vegetable garden pests and diseases to be on the lookout for.
These beetles like to target squash. They chew holes through foliage and are carriers of bacteria that causes bacterial wilt. Remove manually if visible. Practice crop rotation if these pests appear.
Common to the eastern United States, these are orange-red bugs with black dots and are commonly mistaken for ladybugs. These pests feed on squash plant leaves and adults will eat fruit as well. Remove bugs manually.
These pests destroy plant leaves and carry yellow vine disease. They are sap suckers and will cause plant foliage to wilt and die. Row covers will assist in the prevention or use of organic insecticidal soap in case of infestation.
Squash Vine Borer
This pest will destroy your squash from the inside out. Floating row covers are the best method for preventing this pest from invading. Do, however, remove the covers to allow for pollination. Also, aluminum foil wrapped around the first few inches of stems can help.
Downy mildew is a fungal infection that appears with leaves turning yellow and with grey patches appearing on leaf undersides. Avoid any overhead watering.
Powdery mildew disease creates a layer of white powder on foliage. Apply organic neem oil to infected foliage. Avoid overhead watering of plants.
Foliage will be discolored and fruit growth will be stunted. This virus is transmitted to plants by aphids. Use floating row covers. Infected seeds can also transmit this virus, so acquire seed from a trusted source.
Harvesting Summer Squash
Summer squash grows very rapidly, so once you spot a small fruit, check your plant often. Both crookneck and Straightneck squash should be picked when they grow to four to five inches. Whereas Pattypan squash should achieve a diameter of three to five inches and zucchini five to eight inches in length.
Do not pull squash to harvest. Use garden shears to cut the stem and leave an inch or so of stem on the fruit. If blooms are still attached, remove them. Once you have harvested the squash it should be cooked within several days. It can be kept in a refrigerator for as many s ten days with high humidity at 41° to 50° F. Cooler temperatures will cause injury to your squash.