Tips for growing this popular summer staple
Story by Denise Pugh
Once the spring equinox has passed and the gardening catalogs have whetted our appetites for fresh vegetables, summer squash is on the top of my list. Summer squash is a popular summer vegetable and it has many attributes that make it perfect for the home vegetable garden. It grows into a bushy, minimally vining plant; it is easily grown from seed, harvested in 40 to 50 days; and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Summer squash can be grown in a container, raised bed, or traditional row crop. Summer squash is a great plant to get children exited about gardening since the seeds are large, the germination time is short, and the growth is fast.
Growing Your Own Squash
I’ve enjoyed the most success by growing squash plants in a raised bed filled with 10 inches of organically rich, well-draining soil. Once the last frost date is passed (in northern Mississippi, that is around April 15), seeds can be sown directly into the raised beds. Incorporate a slow-release organic fertilizer along with cottonseed meal or composted manure into the soil before planting. Then, mound up the soil into a hill approximately 1 foot in diameter. I plant two seeds per hill, along with a few seeds of ‘Icicle’ radishes. I plant the seeds ½-1 inch deep and then water well. Problems with squash bugs and squash vine borers can be reduced if squash planted soon after the last frost date are protected with a floating row cover. Row covers placed over seedlings can reduce insect populations on squash, but they have to be removed to allow access to pollinating insects once blooms are present.
Squash need full sun; they need to be kept evenly moist, but not wet; and the large plants should be protected from the wind, which can quickly turn a bushy specimen into a prostrate ground cover.
It is also a good idea to invite native bees or honeybees to your landscape to ensure adequate pollination of your plants. Planting a variety of blooming plants and herbs, such as Zinnia and dill, and eliminating the use of pesticides can enhance the bee population in your garden, which in turn will increase your squash harvest.
In a 4 x 8 bed, I grow six squash plants on hills spaced about 2 feet apart. Squash planted mid-April will be ready for harvest by the first half of June. Harvest when the large end of the squash is 1½-2½ inches in diameter Squash should be harvested while the skin is tender since the flavor is often lost after it hardens. A good harvest is about 10 pounds of squash per plant. A fall crop can be planted using the same methods between July 15 and August 15, but remember to rotate the planting site to reduce insect problems.
Bed Preparation and Pest Management
Be sure to remove all debris from the vegetable garden at the end of each season. Incorporate diatomaceous earth into the bed when you prepare it for the winter. This will help eliminate any immature insects that have hatched in the soil. I place 3-mil black plastic over my raised beds to prevent winter weeds from germinating and to allow solar heat to warm the soil.
Rotate the planting site each year. Monitor the backs of the squash leaves for small, round eggs laid close together. Remove these as soon as you find them. If you find squash bugs on your plants, you can manually remove them by going out early in the morning when squash bugs seem to be the most sluggish. I drop the bugs into hot soapy water. I also find that squash planted for a fall crop have fewer insect problems than those planted in the spring.
Be sure that you select healthy seedlings or use seeds packaged for the current year. Enjoy squash in your garden this year, and don’t forget to preserve some for squash dressing later this year!
1 stick butter, melted
1 onion, chopped
3 cups cornbread crumbs
1 can cream of chicken soup
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups cooked summer squash
½ teaspoon pepper
Make cornbread using your favorite recipe. Boil the squash for about 10 minutes (until tender) and drain the water. Combine squash, cornbread crumbs, beaten eggs, chopped onion, and cream of chicken soup along with salt and pepper. Pour into an 11 x 7 casserole dish and bake at 350 F for 40 minutes. Serve as a side dish with chicken or salmon or serve with salad as a main dish.
3 summer squash, sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Cavenders Greek seasoning
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Place sliced squash in to an 8 x 8 baking pan lined with foil. Coat the squash with olive oil, sprinkle the seasoning mix over the squash and then cover the squash with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until golden brown.