Growing summer squash in your Virginia veggie garden
Story by Diane Beyer
There are many varieties of summer squash, all with similar growth requirements and harvest times. Zucchini is probably the most well known summer squash, and the one that causes you to dive behind the couch when you see well-meaning neighbors at the door with yet another bag filled with the large green fruits! Unfortunately, zucchini must be used fairly soon after harvest, as it does not keep well. Fortunately, it has many uses, several of which can be frozen for later. Zucchini is usually dark green, but there are yellow and purple varieties available. A round variety has also been recently introduced.
Another popular summer squash is yellow squash, which can be straightneck or crookneck. These have a mild, nutty flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. Pattypan summer squash are small and flattened with scalloped edges. These are available in green, white, yellow, and bicolor varieties
Summer squash is fairly easy to grow, given the right conditions. It requires at least eight hours of full sun a day and grow best in soil with a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0. Seeds grow easily, and in my experience, often catch up and even surpass small transplants from the local nursery. Seeds can be planted in rows, 1 inch deep and about 4 feet apart with 4 feet between rows. The plants grow quickly with showy large leaves that are covered with prickly hairs for protection from predators. These hairs can sometimes irritating the skin, but a good wash will take care of the itch.
Summer squash should be harvested when young and small for the best taste. As the squash get larger, the seeds inside become larger and tougher, as does the outer skin, and the squash do not taste their best. However, if collecting seeds is your goal, leave the squash so that the seeds may mature.
Squash blossoms are either male or female. The male blossoms appear first and are usually showier than female blossoms. They tend to occur on long skinny stalks all along the plants, whereas female blossoms will be at the center of the plant. Both are necessary to form edible squash fruits, but only the female blossoms will develop into squash.
How do you tell the difference? Other than the location on the plant, the major difference between the male and female blossom is the small embryonic fruit at the base of female blooms. This swollen body is what develops into squash in 60-70 days if pollination occurs.
Recently, pollination has become an issue in many areas, as honeybees and other native pollinator populations have decreased dramatically due to several factors. Because of the lack of pollinators in some areas, you may find that hand pollination is required to set fruit.
Squash are fairly hardy, but do fall victim to several diseases throughout the season. Squash falling off before reaching maturity may indicate poor growing conditions, such as soil that is too dry or perhaps an extended period of high temperatures. Shading your squash plants and watering deeply during these times can help.
Another reason fruit may drop before maturity is poor pollination. One reason for this is the lack of pollinators. Another may be that the male/female flowers are out of sync and not occurring on the plant in adequate numbers at the same time. Hand pollinating can help with this, if you can locate a male flower.
If you notice a dramatic decline in plant health, you may have a squash borer infestation. Unfortunately, it is difficult to discover these pests before they’ve caused major damage. Hand removal of the borer caterpillar from inside the vine can work, but is tedious and iffy. The best way to get ahead of these pests is good garden maintenance. Clean up garden debris after the season’s end and DO NOT compost squash plants with borers. Rotating squash planting locations helps, as borers overwinter in the soil. A light barrier wrapped around the squash stalk before infestation may help as well. The barrier must be something the larvae cannot penetrate – nylon stockings work well.
How to Hand Pollinate
We all learned about stigmas and anthers in high school. These are just names for the female and male reproduction parts of the flower blossoms. The male anther contains pollen, which is needed by the female stigma to create fruit. It’s as simple as that! So, to hand pollinate, step one is determining which is which, and moving the pollen from the male flower to the female!
Hopefully, a plethora of pollinators will be hanging around your garden and you won’t need to do this. Attracting pollinators to your garden using showy and/or fragrant flowers may help.
PARMESAN GARLIC ZUCCHINI CHIPS
A healthy, crispy, and low-calorie snack!
4 small yellow squash and/or zucchini, cut into ¼-½-inch-thick slices
¼ cup garlic olive oil or regular olive oil mixed with 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
½ teaspoon dry Italian seasoning
Salt to taste
Olive oil cooking spray
Preheat oven to 425 F. In large mixing bowl, combine squash/zucchini and garlic olive oil. Mix until well combined.
In separate bowl, combine panko crumbs, Parmesan cheese, lemon pepper, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder. Dip squash rounds in panko crumb mixture, coating both sides, pressing the coating to stick.
Place squash rounds in a single layer on a baking sheet sprayed with olive oil. Lightly spray the top of each slice with cooking spray, being careful not to blow off the coating. This will make your chips crunchier!
Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and turn chips over, lightly spray tops with cooking oil and bake another eight to 10 minute or until chips are golden brown.
Serve with ranch dressing dip. Makes a great appetizer or snack.