Fortunately for gardeners, summer squash is almost as versatile as it is prolific. Slices can be cooked in soup or sautéed and added to pasta. Raw squashes can be peeled and cut into sticks to serve with dip. Both zucchini and yellow squash can be shredded for cooking and baking purposes, as well.
- Full sun.
- Hot temperatures.
- Soil pH between 6.0 and 6.8.
- Start summer squash outdoors when the danger of frost has passed and the soil has thoroughly warmed up. In Kansas, May is the best time.
- Consider soaking your seeds in water for a few hours before planting. This is not essential, but will promote better germination.
- Make small hills of dirt, one for each plant, about three feet apart.
- Do not plant too many summer squash! One hill is quite sufficient for most families.
- Plant three seeds, one inch deep, in each hill.
- Keep the hills well watered until germination.
- When the seedlings start to grow, thin them back to one or two of the healthiest plants per hill.
Summer squash is not terribly demanding. A thick mulch and generous watering will keep it producing well—maybe a little too well!
If your squash plant is stressed by drought and you need to revive it, give it a little additional TLC. Be extra liberal with the water, check it carefully for pests, and trim off all of the diseased, dying, and dead leaves that you find. Before long it will be thriving again.
Pests and Diseases
- Squash bug.
- Squash vine borer.
- Powdery mildew.
Summer squash grows rapidly, so check it every day. Err on the side of picking the squashes a little young. They will probably be six to nine inches long, and the blossom on the end will have wilted when they are ready.
Although summer squash can be broken away from the vine, a much better method of harvesting is to cut through the stem. Be careful not to damage the squash’s tender skin.
Summer squash is best eaten fresh, but will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.
For long-term storage, try peeling and shredding the squash. Store it in airtight plastic bags in the freezer. Let it thaw overnight before you need it, and it will work well for cooking or baking.
- Isolate summer squash from other members of the squash family by half a mile, if possible.
- If this is not feasible, you will have to hand pollinate the flowers. Check on them every day as soon as they appear.
- When the flowers are ready for pollination, they will look orange along the seams, and the tips may be just starting to open. Immediately tape them shut with masking tape.
- When the dew dries the next morning, identify the male and female flowers among the ones that you have taped. Female flowers have a tiny squash attached to the base of the flower. Male flowers attach directly to the stem of the plant.
- Pick one of the male flowers and pull off its petals to make it easier to work with.
- Tear just the tip off of one of the female flowers.
- Rub pollen from the male flower onto the protruding stigma in the center of the female flower.
- Pick another male flower and pollinate the female flower again.
- Carefully tape the female flower shut again so that insects cannot bore into it.
- Loosely tie a plastic ribbon around the stem of the plant so that you can identify the squash that you hand pollinated.
- Repeat with several more flowers. Squash plants tend to reject flowers that have been damaged, so you will have to be gentle and pollinate many flowers to ensure success.
- Let the squash grow until their skins become leathery and so hard that they cannot be dented with a fingernail.
- Cut the squash from the plant and let them sit in a sheltered place for about three weeks.
- Break the squash open with an ax or shovel.
- Pick out the seeds.
- Rub seeds in a wire strainer under running water to separate them from any remaining pulp.
- Drain the seeds and let them air-dry.
- Store seeds in a cool, dry, dark place. They should last for up to six years.
The Attack of the Squash Bugs
Winning the war on squash bugs is not easy—here are a few tips to help.
Summer squash diseases are described along with those of melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, and winter squash.