How To Grow Squash
Squash has been a staple food for generations. Native Americans introduced the early settlers to squash which provided nutrition and energy during the cold winter months. Squash are nutrient-dense foods containing vitamins A and C, potassium niacin, folate, iron and fiber.
Winter Vs. Summer Squash
Winter squash can be grown in most USDA Hardiness Zones. It is a warm-season vegetable that is planted in early spring and harvested after it is fully mature. For a second harvest, plant again in July for a September harvest. Winter squashes have a hard skin and can be stored for many months if properly cured. Here are a few varieties of winter squash that will grow in a wide range of climates:
- Acorn squash. Table Queen is the standard dark green acorn squash. Table King is a dark green acorn squash that grows on a compact bush.
- Delicata squash. Delicata squash is also called sweet potato squash. It has a long shape and a creamy color with green stripes.
- Spaghetti squash. This squash can be substituted for pasta.Tivolihas a bush growth habit that sprouts 3 to 4 pound fruits.
- Butternut squash. Butterbush has a bush habit with small fruits. Ponca stores well. Early Butternut grows medium size fruits and has a high yield.
- Hubbard squash. Hubbard squash has a very hard skin with the fruits ranging in size from 8 to 25 pounds.
Summer squash is also a warm-season vegetable that grows across the country during the spring and summer months. In contrast to winter squash, summer squash has a thin skin and can be harvested before the fruit is fully ripe. Here are some recommended varieties:
- Zucchini. There are many varieties with Black Zucchini being a popular variety. Classic has a compact growth habit.
- Yellow Crookneck. This squash has a curved neck and is a heavy producer.
- Yellow Straightneck. Goldbar has a golden yellow color and an upright growth habit.
Selecting a Location
Both winter and summer squash need plenty of room for the vines to stretch out and grow. Here are a few tips:
- If space is limited, choose bush or semi-vining types.
- The vine-type squash need a large area where the vines can spread out.
- Squash can be grown from seed or transplants with 2 or 3 plants per hill.
- For vining types, the hills should be between 5 and 6 feet apart to give the plants room to spread.
- Bush varieties require about 3 feet between hills.
- Vining-type and bush varieties may be grown in containers. Use at least a 5 gallon container for 2 plants.
- Squash may be grown up a trellis. Provide support for larger fruits.
Pests and Pollination
Cucumber beetles and squash bugs are the two most common pests that attack squash plants and fruits:
- Cucumber beetles can infest the entire plant. Cucumber beetles do the most damage in early September when the fruits are beginning to mature.
- Squash bugs appear when the plants begin to set fruit and can be a problem into the late summer.
- Leaves may develop powdery mildew when humidity levels are high.
Squash plants have both male and female flowers. The male flowers have a long thin stem. The female flowers have a small bulge at the base of the flower. Squash flowers are edible either raw or cooked. If you want to eat the flowers, pick the male flowers. Leave the female flowers on the plant to produce fruit. Also leave a few male flowers on the plant for pollination.
If you grow several types of squash, do not save the seeds from these fruits. Squash plants cross-pollinate and future generations will not resemble the parent.
Winter squash is harvested when the fruits are a deep color and the skin is hard. Usually this occurs in September and October before the heavy frosts. Here are a few tips:
- When harvesting squash, leave 2 inches of stem attached to the fruit.
- Squash that have blemishes, are without stems or are not fully mature will not store well and should be used as soon as possible.
- Cure winter squash by keeping the squash at room temperature (about 70 degrees) for between 10 and 20 days.
- Winter squash can be left in the garden to cure by letting the fruits sit until the vines have dried out.
- Winter squash should be stored in a cool (around 50 degrees), dry and dark location. Do not let the squash fruits touch each other.
- Cooked squash can be packed in freezer bags or containers and placed in the freezer for up to a year.
Summer squash should be harvested when the fruits are small and tender. Fruits that are allowed to become large tend to lose flavor and become hard and seedy. Here are some tips for harvesting summer squash:
- Handle the fruits with care when harvesting. The fruits bruise easily.
- Use soon after harvesting. Summer squash does not store for long periods of time like winter squash.
- Wear gloves when harvesting. The stems are prickly and can cause irritations.
- To store summer squash, make sure the fruit is dry, place in a plastic bag and put in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. The squash will keep for a few days.
- Zucchini can be substituted for cucumbers in pickle recipes. Zucchini is the only summer squash that is suitable for canning.
- Summer squash can be grated and frozen.