Being that I was born and raised in the South, squash is a staple on our table come summertime. There are many different types of squash: summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins and zucchinis, but all are in the same family. I will be discussing summer squash and zucchini.
Summer squash come in many different cultivars including: 'Crookneck Squash', 'Straightneck Squash', 'Scalloped Squash'(also called 'Pattypan Squash') and 'Zucchini'.
The above picture is of a crookneck variety. This variety of crookneck squash is sometimes referred to as 'Warty' or 'Pebbled Squash'.
I prefer to plant straightneck squash personally. The reason being, I feel like the straightnecks are a better shape for slicing, which is the main way that I prepare them for frying or baking. There is nothing wrong with the crookneck variety as they have a great taste and are perfect for casseroles or stews as well as frying.
How to Plant & Care for Squash
Choose a very sunny area with soil that should be slightly acidic, drains well, and be amended with lots of composted manure.
Direct-sow seeds when the air temperatures reach at least 70° F. Plant bush types 1½" deep and 2' apart in rows 4' apart. Plant vining types of squash 2' apart in rows that are 4' apart.
In areas with short seasons, start seeds indoors 4 weeks before the last frost date and transplant after the last frost date.
Transplants can be bought at a nursery or garden center and transplanted into the garden, but avoid disturbing the roots.
How to Harvest Squash
Summer squash taste best when picked small - when crooknecks and straightnecks are about 6" long. Pick scalloped squash when they are about 3" in diameter.
Use a clean, sharp knife or small garden shears to cut the stems about 1" above the fruits. The bigger the they are allowed to grow, the tougher the skin and seeds will be. In my experience, if a "hidden" squash grows to a very large size, there is still hope - just bake it.
In this case I have split the squash down the middle long ways, clean out the seeds in the middle and baked the squash halves with lots of butter and sliced onions on top. You can even hollow it out, leaving about an inch of meat, and put stuffing in the cavity and bake. Either way, the squashes come out as a delicious dinner treat!
Pests & Diseases of Squash
Squash bugs can be a major pest towards squash plants. Try to choose cultivars that are resistant to squash bugs. Adult squash bugs are very difficult to eradicate. Avoid using any pesticides, as they may kill beneficial pollinators, such as bees.
Cucumber beetles can also wreck havoc on your squash plants - they can spread bacterial wilt. Aphids can also be a problem, as they carry mosaic virus. Squash vine borers are also a menace to squash and zucchini. Squash vine borers are almost impossible to prevent and treat. The best possible solution is using floating row covers to prevent the squash vine borer moth from laying eggs on the plants.
Summer squash are also susceptible to fusarium wilt, anthracnose, rots, leaf spots, gummy stem blight, and powdery mildew. Try to choose cultivars that are resistant to these fungi.
Growing summer squash can be an intricate part of your vegetable garden with little overall maintenance. They can be eaten uncooked in salads, sliced and used in stir-fries, chopped and used in casseroles, or fried with onions for a down home southern dish. There are many uses for this delicious vegetable!
Zucchini are primarily grown in the same manner as summer squash; that is why I put them on the same page. Zucchini also face the same diseases and pests as squash.
My favorite zucchini to grow in 'Burpee FordHook'. They have good size - between 6" to 8" in length. They also have an excellent taste and are great for frying, baking, stir-frying, plus many more ways of preparing.
This type of zucchini is fast growing and ready to harvest in about 57 days. If grown from seed, the seedlings should emerge in 10-14 days.
Adding zucchini to your garden can be an exciting and delicious addition.