Summer squash are harvested young and tender, while the skin is still soft and the squash are solid in the middle. They are eaten raw or cooked. This group will loose their flavour as they mature so it is best to pick when the skin can be easily pierced with your fingernail. They are perishable and need to be refrigerated and used within days of harvesting.
Summer squash includes cylindrical, crookneck, straightneck and scallop types. Cocozelle and cousa are often referred to as vegetable marrow. The little Flying Saucer patty pans (scallop) are fun and easily grown in a large containers. The summer squash can be white, green, yellow and even striped.
Winter squash are harvested in early fall. They should have a hard shell, hollow middle and the flesh is typically dark orange. This group includes acorn, buttercup, butternut, pumpkin, warted, and spaghetti types. They are most often baked and have a higher sugar content than summer squash. Winter squash should be stored in a cool dry area. Concrete floors will make them sweat and rot, so be sure to have a barrier.
Sowing and growing
Squash are available in bush or vine varieties. You will need a lot of garden space for the vine varieties. I let my spaghetti squash ramble off the retaining wall onto a grassed area. The vine varieties tend to continually produce flowers and you will have fruit at different stages. The bush varieties often have one crop and you may want to seed different crops in 2 week intervals to multiple your harvest times. Bush varieties also do well in container gardening.
Direct sow seeds as directed on the package in warm soil and after any chance of frost. In short growing season areas, you may want to start seeds indoors in 4" or 6" pots a few weeks before planting out.
Squash have male and female flowers. It is the female flowers that produce the squash. The male flowers will out number the females and will have a thinner and longer stem. Male flowers will be located along the length of the vine. The female flowers will be located near the base of the plant and will have a slight bulge at the flower base. Hand pollinating is easy and will increase your crop yield. Pick a male flower and hand pollinate the female blooms to produce your fruit. The male flowers can also be picked for consumption and are cooked a variety of ways.
Cross your fingers to have warm sunny conditions with consistent moisture. Cold wet conditions, hail and early frosts will be detrimental. This past summer, hail wiped out my zucchini in Calgary, but we had a bumper crop of spaghetti squash at our garden in NE Alberta.
My cousin Mike, who also gardens in NE Alberta, had started these butternut early indoors and had a great crop as well.
You will be amazed at the fantastic taste of home grown squash compared to commercial crops available at a grocery store. If you have the gardening space, try some squash this year.
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