Gardening Articles: Care :: Seeds & Propagation
Some Sumptuous Summer Squash
by Charlie Nardozzi
If vegetable gardening was only about producing the most vegetables possible per square foot, I would pick summer squash to be on my team. Summer squash and zucchini are easy to grow and productive. We've all heard stories about people secretly leaving fruits of summer squash on neighbor's porches, car backseats, and baby strollers as a way to get rid of the excess.
While summer squash are very productive, they also are very tasty. Whether it be the dark green-skinned zucchini, yellow-skinned straight or crooknecks, or light green-skinned Lebanese summer squash, they all have a creamy flavor that tastes great baked, steamed, sauteed, and grilled. So if you want to feed an army (or your neighborhood), grow summer squash. Here's how.
Summer Squash Varieties
Summer squash varieties vary by skin color and shape. Which variety you grow really becomes a matter of personal preference. They all grow quickly from seed or transplant to produce fruits in about 40 to 50 days after planting. Summer squash thrive in full sun, on well-drained fertile soil. Give them a little compost and keep them watered and you'll more than likely be rewarded with a bountiful crop.
Growing Summer Squash
Like all squash and pumpkins, summer squash and zucchini grow best with warm soil temperatures and plenty of water. Although they can be bought as transplants from a garden center, summer squash are easily sown directly into the soil once the soil temperature is above 60°F. In cold weather areas, consider laying down a layer of black plastic mulch two weeks before planting to preheat the soil, and then plant into holes poked in the plastic. Amend the soil with a 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of compost before planting.
There are various planting methods you can use. Plant seeds in rows, dropping the seeds about 8 inches apart in furrows about 6 inches deep. You also can plant summer squash in hills or mounds. Plant 6 to 8 seeds in hills or circles spaced 4 feet apart. Thin after the seedlings emerge, leaving the two to three strongest seedlings. If you have heavy or wet soil, raise the hills into mounds about 8 inches high and flat on top. Plant and space the seeds as you would in the hills. Once they start growing, side-dress plants at first flowering and then monthly with an all-purpose fertilizer to keep the fruits coming. Keep plants well weeded, and once the soil has warmed, mulch with an organic product such as pine straw. Keep the squash well watered as well.
Most summer squash varieties have separate male and female flowers. Insects, especially bees, are needed for pollination and fruiting to occur. Because of bee colony decline across the country there are fewer honey bees in gardens. Also, during periods of cold, cloudy weather bees may not be flying so pollination may be reduced. You can improve the harvest by helping with pollination. In the morning when the flowers are fully opened, go into the garden and swish a cotton swab in the male flower (the one with a straight stem behind the flower). Then take the cotton swab containing the yellow pollen and swish it around the female flower (the one with a small squash behind the flower). This should help insure the flower gets pollinated, and young squash are bound to follow.