Growing Summer Squash is a great thing for many new gardeners to begin with. These easy to grow and productive squashes are a great addition to any garden!
Growing Summer Squash
It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to do a growing guide so I thought I’d ease myself back into the routine by tackling an easy one. Growing summer squash here in Utah is fairly easy. There aren’t a lot of pests that bother summer squash here so it’s easy to get a good crop. As I’ve said before, about mid-August our neighbors start locking their car doors and not answering when we knock to avoid becoming part of the “glut” of squash.
Types of Summer Squash
When growing summer squash there are really three main types to choose from, all of which we have grown on and off over the years:
This, of course, is everyone’s favorite summer squash. Traditional zucchini grows a dark green long fruit that is best harvested at about 4 – 6 inches. Plant breeders are getting really creative with new varieties. You can choose zucchini of many different sizes and textures and they are even starting to get some different colors (yellow).
This is the type of summer squash that usually really gets out of hand for us. Plants produce a yellow fruit that is thinner at the top and usually has a small curve giving it the name crookneck. These quick growing fruits are also best harvested when smaller (around 4 to 6 inches) and be careful you would be amazed how much one fruit can grow in just a day. If you think it is almost ready in the morning, you best check it again at lunchtime because it will be ready!
Pattypan (or Scallop)
My kids think these look like flying saucers. We have grown this beautiful white variety for a couple of years now, but they come in yellow, orange and green as well. These are best harvested at around 3 or 4 inches in diameter although I have found they are still very eatable when larger, unlike zucchini and crookneck which are only good for bread when they are larger.
Growing Summer Squash
Summer squash doesn’t transplant very well so if you do decide to start plants indoors do so only 3 weeks or so before your last frost and then handle the transplants very gently when planting out in the garden.
Better yet just plant the seeds in your garden right around your last frost date (for us here in my area that’s usually May 15th). Plant 4 to 6 seeds in a small hill and then thin out all but the strongest 1 or 2 seedlings. You may need to offer a little protection on cold nights in late spring. A simple cloche or row cover should do the trick. Growing summer squash like a good rich soil with lots of organic matter (but what veggie doesn’t). You can offer them some organic fertilizer during the season, but stop to consider; the better you take care of the plants the more squash they will bear, with summer squash that is not always a good thing!!
Care while growing summer squash
Newly sprouted seedlings may struggle a little during a cool spring, but as soon as the weather warms up they will take off and grow like crazy. Although they don’t take up as much space as winter squash or pumpkin, growing summer squash still take up a lot of space. By season end the plants can take up as much as 10 to 20 square feet so be sure to give them room. Keep them watered well (about an inch a week).
Summer Squash can be bothered by cucumber beetles, squash vine bores, and squash bugs. If you offer some protection from pests (by using lightweight row cover) while they are small, they can usually survive attacks from most pests when they are larger and more established.
They are also susceptible to Powdery Mildew and Wilt. In a lot of areas, these diseases don’t strike until later in the season. By that time most of us are usually sick of summer squash anyway so just pull them out. There are some chemical controls available for powdery mildew (but as an organic gardener I don’t recommend them), there usually isn’t much you can do if your plant gets wilt as there is no chemical control.
Practicing good crop rotation and keeping a clean garden will help most of these problems and pests. If you are really struggling with powdery mildew you could consider a second planting later in the season and the younger plants can take over production when the old plants get sick.
Harvesting Summer Squash
The first flowers on your plant should appear about 6-8 weeks after planting with the first harvest-able fruit about 5 days later. The best harvesting practice is to cut the fruit from the plant with a sharp knife. Trying to twist the fruit off can damage the plant or the fruit (effecting storage time). Harvest zucchini and crookneck squash when 4 to 6 inches long and patty-pan when 3 or 4 inches across. Watch fruit closely, they can go quickly from “just right” to too big. Better to pick it a little small than to let it go another day and have it be too large.
Provided they remain free of pests and diseases summer squash will produce prolifically from mid-summer until the plants are killed by the first fall frost. That means you really need to be careful about how many plants you put in. 2 or at the most 3 plants will produce all the squash a family of 4-6 can eat (and then some). Try planting one of each type for some color and variety at the table.
Summer squash is great stir-fried, grilled, steamed or even raw (choose very small fruits for the best raw eating). It can also be frozen for use in winter soups and casseroles. And who can resist a nice loaf of zucchini bread?