by Master Gardener Stephanie Wrightson
Plant squash starts as soon as the threat of frost passes—mid- to late-April in some county micro-climates. Many county gardeners wait until May. For a head start, seed indoors three weeks prior to the expected last frost. If you decide to direct seed when the weather is warm, plant two or three in a hill and, then, thin to the strongest seedling. If you leave them all, they will be overcrowded and prone to disease due to poor air circulation around the base of the plants. You transplant summer squash through July.
Amend the soil with compost before planting. Squash is a heavy feeder. You may need to side-dress with a little compost during the growing season but go easy on nitrogen that will cause green, leafy growth; fruiting will suffer and insects will be attracted to the lushness. An organic phosphorus fertilizer will promote fruiting.
Regular, even watering is key. Like tomatoes, squash is susceptible to blossom end rot caused by uneven watering and a calcium deficiency. Buy crushed oyster shells, or wash and dry egg shells and pulse them in the blender to make a calcium-rich powder. Use an organic mulch to retain moisture in the soil but keep mulch away from stems.
Apparently, the world record is a Canadian-grown zucchini measuring 7 feet, 3 inches. Of course, for eating, we pick squash much smaller. In general, harvest zucchini when 6-8 inches, pattypan when 3-4 inches and yellow crookneck when 4-7 inches. Google your specific variety to determine the ideal harvesting size. Or harvest baby fruit. Why pay for gourmet vegetables when you can pick them in your own garden?!
Summer squash is low in calories and can be a source of Vitamin A and potassium. For some uses of summer squash, including a recipe for zucchini pickles, see Overrun with Zucchinis. And, don’t forget your neighbors on August 8th.