Summer squash among fastest-growing vegetables

June 19, 2013

As Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company reminded us in their 1968 hit, “It’s Summertime and the Livin’ Is Easy.” A part of the garden is all about summer and, true to form, very easy. The Narragansett (Algonquian) Indians called these garden fruits “green things that may be eaten raw,” or “askutasquash,” that we shortened to “squash.” Summer squash are simply immature members of the family Cucurbita pepo.

Besides the familiar green zucchini which is also available in gold, summer squash include yellow straightneck and the curved and warty yellow crookneck. Pattypan summer squash grow saucer-shaped fruits with scalloped edges. Mid Eastern type summer squash are often oval with light grey or white skin.

Summer squash are among the fastest growing vegetables in the garden, often going from seed to harvest in under two months, so you can plant them right up until very late summer.

Sow summer squash seeds in rows or raised hills after all danger of frost has passed. If squash bugs are a problem, you can avoid most of the damage by delaying planting until early summer. Summer squash do best in full sun in fertile, loose, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.

You can dig compost or well-rotted manure into the beds. Dig the soil down to about a foot before planting.

Sow the seeds eight inches apart in the row and space the rows a good three feet apart. You can also sow the seeds in groups of four seeds in mounds or hills with the hills about three feet apart. Summer flowers are either male or female. The male flowers grow on bare stems, while female flowers have small, undeveloped baby squash attached.

You can eat the squash blossoms themselves by dipping them in batter and frying them.

Summer squash grow quickly, especially in warm weather, when they will be ready to pick within a week of blooming. Larger fruit can be hollowed out and stuffed and baked, or you can grate the squash into batters for muffins, cakes and other baked goods.

If you keep the plants picked, you will get a constant supply of squash over the summer.

If you want to save your own seeds remember that summer squash will cross pollinate easily even with some varieties of winter squash that are also varieties of cucurbitas pepo. You can cover your plants with insect-proof row covers and then hand pollinate the squash for seeds. Let these harden, scoop out the seeds and let them dry.

Summer squash can be attacked by insects such as squash vine borers and cucumber beetles. Use an organic spray to keep them at bay or hand pick them off of the plants.

Many squash are attacked by powdery mildew, so you may want to plant resistant varieties, which often have the letters PM (for “powdery mildew-resistant”) as part of their name.

The bushy plants and big blossoms mean you can poke summer squash into the flower bed or along a border as edible landscaping.

So whether your tastes runs to Southern Comfort and Janis Joplin or the original Gershwin smooth jazz, summertime living and summer squash is easy. And tasty.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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