There are a wide variety of summer squash available for gardeners to try. Don’t limit yourself to zucchini!
By Mara Higdon
[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener July/August 2014 issue.]
There are a wide variety of summer squash available for gardeners to try. Don’t limit yourself to zucchini! There are yellow squash, patty pans, round and oval squash, and the long necked Tromboncino. Plant one plant per person so you’re not inundated at the end of the season.
Squash grow best in full sun, with soil amended with compost or other organic matter. Like other cucurbits, they do tend to be heavy feeders. But, the plants themselves are generally compact and easy to care for. The Tromboncino is the only variety that benefits from a trellis for the vines to crawl upon. You can even plant summer squash in containers and they should do fairly well.
Seeds are the best way to start your squash plants. You can either plant them 2 weeks after the last frost to get a head start on the season. In my experience, waiting a bit later in the summer to plant has deterred the ever-disappointing squash vine borer, a pest that sucks the life out of your squash plant in one or two days and leaves it withering on the ground, lifeless.
Plant your seeds in soil amended with a couple shovelfuls of compost. Plant the seeds 8 inches apart and keep your rows 24 inches apart. Water them in well and check on them daily. You can thin the seedlings to 3 feet apart once they appear. To prevent pests, cover your squash row with row cover held up with metal or PVC hoops until the plants are ready to bloom. This keeps out the squash bugs, (hopefully) the vine borer, and cucumber beetles. At bloom time, you should remove the row cover to allow for pollination which you can let nature do naturally with bees and other beneficial insects/birds or you can pollinate by hand, taking the pollen from the male and brushing it on the female blossoms using a small paint brush.
Packed with vitamin A and C and a good dose of dietary fiber, summer squash are a fun and versatile plant to grow. Remember that the squash blossoms are also edible. They should be harvested in the morning and kept cool. Stuff with a sautéed mix of couscous, herbs, and squash for a delicious lunch or dinner!
Mara Higdon is Program Director at Gateway Greening, Inc. They focus on community development through gardening throughout the St. Louis area. You can reach her at 314-588-9600.