One of my favorite veggies (fruits) in the whole world is the summer squash. I love the fact that you can eat them raw, fried, stewed, or just about any other way you can imagine. They’re sweet, delicious, and very easy to grow. Today we’ll learn all about these yummy summer squash!
Varieties of Summer Squash
Typically, the term “summer squash” refers to a warm-season fruit that is harvested while the rind is still tender and edible. As with any other fruit or vegetable, there are many specific species of summer squash. Most fit into a few varieties:
- Scallop or Patty Pan – round and flattened like a plate with scalloped edges; usually white in color, but sometimes yellow or green.
- Constricted Neck – much thinner at the stem end than the blossom end; classified as either “crookneck” or “straightneck” depending on if the stem end is straight or bent; usually yellow in color.
- Cylindrical or club-shaped Italian marrows – examples are zucchini, cocozelle and caserta; usually shades of green, but may be yellow or nearly white.
Planting and Care of Summer Squash
Any time after the last frost date in your area has passed, you can plant your squash. Choose a site with full sun to light shade (6+ hours of sun each day) and well-drained soil. Till the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, and mix in a 2-inch layer of compost. Summer squash tend to be large plants, and grow very fast, so be sure to space them 3′ to 5′ apart. Plant at a depth of 1″. You can use a light layer of mulch, but when the plants really begin to flourish, the broad leaves will block most weeds and keep the soil from overheating. Water approximately 1″ per week. Water deeply to promote deep rooting and healthy plants.
Growing and Harvesting Summer Squash
Keep an eye on the flowers when the plants are growing. There are male and female flowers. While the female flowers produce fruit, the male flowers do not. You can actually eat the male flowers – just be sure to leave a few on the plant for pollination! You can eat squash blossoms raw, or battered and fried (tempura style is delicious). Using a sharp knife or shears, cut squash blossoms at midday when the petals are open. Leave one inch of stem. Rinse gently in a pan of cool water and store in ice water in the refrigerator until ready to use. The flowers can be stored for up to 1-2 days.
Fruits are usually ready to start harvesting within 2 months. They continue to produce all season long and are very prolific producers. One plant could produce up to (and sometimes more than) 9 lbs of fruit! Harvest the fruit when they are small and tender – larger fruits tend to be too hard. for best quality. Most elongated varieties are picked when they are 2 inches or less in diameter and 6 to 8 inches long. Don’t allow summer squash to become too large – they become hard and seedy.
Keep in mind that squash are morning bloomers — their blossoms only open for a short time in the morning. This is when bees come to pollinate. When bees fail to pollinate blossoms, they will fall off. The male blossoms will naturally fall off, anyway, but if you see female blossoms falling off, you may need to start hand pollinating. Simply take a q-tip or a small, soft-bristled artist’s brush, gently brush around the inside of a male blossom, then gently brush around the inside of a female blossom.
Pests and Problems That Affect Squash
Cucumber beetles, squash bugs and squash vine borers are some of the biggest threats to your summer squash crop. They tend to do their most damage late in the season when harvest is starting to taper-off. Residue resembling sawdust can be found on plant stems infested by vine borers. If you see the beetles or bugs on your plants, hand pick them off and destroy them. If your plant starts to wilt, and you find it has been infested by borers, slit the fine open at the point of entry, remove the borer and destroy. Bury the vine at the slit so it might re-root.
While those pests affect plants late in the season, it would be wise to cover young plants early in the season with floating row covers to deter cutworms, aphids and spider mites. Using a row cover and hula hoops (small diameter pvc or even bamboo would work, too), create a tunnel that completely covers the rows of young plants. Once the plants begin to produce blossoms, remove the row covers to allow pollenating insects to do their job.
Powdery mildew is also something to look for. Round white powdery spots and coating on leaves caused by fungal spores germinate on dry leaf surfaces when the humidity is high; spores do not germinate on wet leaves. Powdery mildew is common in late summer or fall, it but does not result in total plant loss. Pick off infected leaves (but do NOT put them on your compost pile).
Eating and Storing Squash
Squash can be eaten a number of ways from raw to deep fried. Being a good southern boy, I love fried squash with salt and plenty of pepper! I also love them raw in salads and in casseroles. Below are some great recipes from some great bloggers:
- Yellow Squash Recipe for Summer – Mom Prepares
- Zucchini Walnut Cookies – Homespun Seasonal Living
- Zucchini Fritters – Lil Suburban Homesteader
- Parmesan Zucchini Medallions – Lil Suburban Homesteader
- Summer Pasta Salad – Schneider Peeps
- Got Zucchini? Make Zoodles – Real Food Living
- Summer Squash Gummy Candy – Common Sense Homesteading
- Zucchini Poorman’s Crabcakes – The Free Range Life
- Dried “Pineapple” Zucchini – The Free Range Life
Unfortunately, summer squash does not always store well. Since they are harvested young, they will simply turn to mush if you try to can them. You could freeze them or dehydrate them. Though I have never tried it, I have heard you can marinate and grill slices, then freeze them. Other than those suggestions, there isn’t much you can really do to store them for long periods of time. Let’s see what some of my friends have to say:
- Preserving Zucchini – Homespun Seasonal Living
- Dehydrating Foods – Zucchini Chips – Simply Canning
- Dehydrating Zoodles and Squashetti – Real Food Living
- Dehydrating Zucchini and Summer Squash – GNOWFGLINS
Saving Squash Seeds
If your summer squash ripens past the tender stage, you can save the seeds. Pick the fruit, cut it open, and scrape the seeds into a bowl. Soak the seeds overnight, then drain and dry. Store seeds in paper envelopes. Make sure you clearly mark the packets with the date and species of squash.