Summer squash in the garden just can’t be beat. Now you can grow superb summer squashes with ease, if you just follow a few easy tips.
Summer squash is a super-producer…you will have more squash than you can possibly eat! It’s a great crop to grow for that very reason. You can eat squash to your heart’s content as well as give plenty away to family and friends. Squash and zucchini are also very versatile in cuisine. You can eat them raw, cooked, and put them in just about anything including breads and cookies.
When to Plant
Sow your squash seeds directly in beds or hills after all danger of frost has passed. Check your local “final frost” dates for best results. You can also begin sowing squash seeds indoors before the frost date and wait to transplant later on when the soil is warmer.
Many gardeners like to plant squash crops in succession all summer long, so starting your plants from seed is a great idea for an economical and prolific squash crop all season long. Stop planting your squash approximately 10-12 weeks before your first fall frost date.
How to Plant Your Squash
Choose a sunny location for your squash. Summer squash prefers full-sun and well-drained soil. Squash thrives in fertile soil, so add in compost for very best results. After transplanting or when a mature plant begins to emerge, fertilize your crop with an all-natural, organic fertilizer.
You will want to plant your squash seeds approximately 6-8 inches apart. Seeds should be planted about an inch deep and seedlings should be thinned out when plants emerge. Transplants should be spaced 2-3 feet apart.
Squash plants produce male and female blooms. You will need pollen to transfer from the male to the female bloom. Pollinating insects, mainly bees, carry out this important job of pollination, which in turn gives us lots of fresh squash. You can improve your yield by planting more than five squash plants in the garden. Some gardeners with less space successfully hand-pollinate their plants with a paintbrush. If you have 5 or more plants and plenty of bees and insects in your area, you should not have to do this. If you get lots of blooms but never any squash fruit, you are not successfully pollinating your squash crop and may need to hand-pollinate next time.
To Mulch…or Not to Mulch
There is quite a controversy about mulching squash. (Well, as much controversy as far as gardeners go.) Some gardeners advocate for mulching squash to keep water in and diseases out. Others say mulch only encourages insect and pest problems, as it gives a place for the critters to hide nicely.
It really amounts to personal preference and local conditions. If bugs and pests have been a problem for you in the past, you may very well want to avoid mulching altogether. But if you’ve always grown squash and not encountered pest problems, a light layer of mulch may not be a bad idea.
Many gardeners like to use a plastic hill covering to avoid pest problems. That again is personal preference based on your local conditions.
Harvesting Your Crop
Did you know summer squash blooms are edible? Yes, they are! And quite delicious too. Many people love to throw them in a skillet with seasonings and eat just the blooms.
You can harvest your squash fruits at just about any time. Smaller squash are tender and delicious. The larger the squash gets, the less tender it will be, so bigger is not better when it comes to summer squash. If you wait too long, the squash will be woody and bitter to the taste.
When your squash harvest begins to come in, it will come in like gangbusters! You will need to harvest daily at this stage if you have a large number of squash plants. For smaller gardens, a few times a week should be sufficient. Gently break off the fruits leaving the stub of the stem attached to the plant. Wash your squash in cool water and dry. Store in the refrigerator for several days. Blanch and freeze squash for long-term storage.
Disease Prevention & Pesky Pests
Squash is one of the veggies in the garden that diseases and pests love to tamper with. But don’t let that discourage you from growing it! Many of these problems are easily treatable. Squash bugs, borers, and beetles can be a problem for summer squash. As we discussed above, many gardeners find success by covering the rows with specialized row covers. In smaller gardens, hand-picking of bugs, larvae, and eggs is usually do-able. You should begin to check your plants regularly for signs of pests as the weather gets warmer.
Powdery mildew is a late summer disease that often strikes squash. Unfortunately it will affect squash production, but it isn’t a death-senetence either. When you start to see signs of powdery mildew, you should treat it with an all-natural approach. One recipe for homemade natural fungicide is one gallon of water mixed with 4-5 cloves of crushed garlic. Another recipe is to mix one gallon of water with a squirt of dish soap and 1 tbsp. of baking soda. Spray directly onto the plants.