Summer squash is one of the most gratifying crops to grow in the vegetable garden. Simply stick in a few seeds, wait a while, and suddenly you're harvesting tender green and gold squash by the armload.
Often the biggest dilemma is what to do with all the bounty! Whether you serve them grilled or steamed, in stir-fries or casseroles, as a sweet treat in breads, muffins, and cakes, or raw in salads, amazingly productive zucchini and yellow squash will add to meals all summer long.
Squash may seem to grow as easily as the beans Jack planted to produce his magic beanstalk. But it's important to pay attention to some basics as you plant and care for your crop for the best harvest.
As with most veggies, full sun and fertile, well-drained soil are key. Squash plants revel in the heat of summer, so give them the warmth they crave by waiting until the soil is warm, the weather is settled, and the danger of frost is well past before putting seeds in the ground.
Planting in hills is traditional. Sow 4-6 seeds in a circle about a foot across and thin to the two strongest plants, spacing each hill 3-4 feet apart. But planting in rows also works; check the seed packet for spacing information.
Consistent soil moisture is important to keep your plants in top condition, especially as they're flowering and setting fruits. Mulch will help the soil retain moisture and keep weeds down. And these heavy feeders will appreciate a dose of soluble fertilizer every few weeks all season long, in addition to plenty of compost mixed into the soil before planting time.
Pick your squash early and often. You'll enjoy the harvest at its tender best and keep your plants producing well. If you cut fruits with a short piece of stem attached, they'll last longest in the refrigerator.
Here are some the many varieties of summer squash and zucchini we carry.
Fancycrook (42 days)This crookneck squash bears smooth, bright yellow fruits and shows tolerance for powdery mildew.
Fortune (39 days) A vigorous, productive straightneck variety with attractive, dark butter yellow fruits.
Horn of Plenty (43-45 days) This high-yielding hybrid yellow crookneck is a great choice for both home and market gardeners.
Black Beauty (44 days) This open-pollinated, bush-type zucchini bears long, straight, black-green fruits with with a fine, delicate flavor.
Gray Zucchini (42 days) One of the most attractive summer squash varieties with 12 inch, straight fruits mottled medium green with gray.
Midas (53 days) This hybrid yellow straightneck is powdery mildew resistant and has excellent yield potential.
As we said, your biggest problem with summer squash and zucchini is likely to be what to do with it all! But problems can arise on occasion. Here are some tips on what to be on the lookout for.
Cucumber beetles: These little critters are the number one threat to squash plants (and other members of the Cucurbit Family). The black and yellow striped or spotted beetles feed on young seedlings. They are also the Typhoid Mary's of the garden, transmitting a deadly bacterial wilt as they feed. Row covers placed over young seedlings will offer protection, but need to be removed once plants begin to flower so that bees can get in to pollinate the blossoms. Kaolin clay is a natural product that will repel beetles from feeding on plants. You can also set up yellow sticky traps to capture the adult beetles. In among your squash plants, place pieces of waterproof material painted yellow and coated with sticky material like Tanglefoot.
Powdery mildew: This fungal disease is a common affliction on summer squash. It covers leaves with a powdery white coating that can cause them to eventually wither and die. Humid conditions promote this disease, so make sure plants have good air circulation around them. Handpick infected leaves as soon as you notice them and clean up all plant debris well at the end of the season to reduce the amount of overwintering fungi. Spraying the plants with a mixture of one part milk and nine parts water may slow the spread of the disease. If you spray with a material labeled for powdery mildew control (there are both both organic and non-organic options), begin at the first sign of the disease, since the sprays provide prevention and suppression, not a cure.
Squash bugs: These drab brown insects, about 1/2 inch long, can be a big headache for squash growers. They seem to be especially fond of yellow summer squash varieties. Squash bugs feed by sucking, causing leaves to wilt and die. Look for and crush clusters of small, shiny, orange-brown eggs on the undersides of leaves. And keep and eye out for the immature nymphs, which look like big gray aphids. Handpick the adults and nymphs and drop them into a container of soapy water to drown; the adult bugs will give off an unpleasant odor if crushed. Keep the area at the base of plants free from mulch, as it can provide a protected spot for the bugs to congregate. Spraying an insecticide such a pyrethrin in this area can help control this pest.
Q: I've made zucchini bread, zucchini salad, zucchini soup, even fried it like green tomatoes. I'm running out of ideas. Help!
A: Try this yummy zucchini casserole recipe. It's easy to make and perfect for a summer barbecue or potluck dinner. Everybody loves it!
2 pounds zucchini, chopped into chunks (or use a mix of zucchini and yellow squash)
1 small onion, chopped
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup (use a lower fat and salt selection, if desired; use cream of celery soup for a vegetarian version)
1 cup sour cream (low fat works fine)
1 cup grated carrot
8-oz package herb-seasoned stuffing mix
1/2 cup butter, melted
Combine the chopped zucchini and onion in a steamer basket set over boiling water. Steam until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Combine condensed soup, sour cream, and grated carrot in a large bowl. Add the steamed zucchini and onion and stir gently to combine.
In a separate bowl, combine the stuffing mix and melted butter. Spread half of the buttered stuffing mixture in the bottom of a 13" x 9" baking pan. Top with the squash mixture, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the remaining stuffing mixture on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.