Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Growing Squash from Seed to Harvest

Are you ready for another addition to our 2014 Plant Guide?

Summer squash is a vegetable gardening favorite, and it’s easy to grow.  Think of yellow crookneck squash, zucchini, or pattypan and scallop squash. These squash grows well in containers, too.
Zucchini
Preferred Growing Conditions
Vegetables tend to all like the same growing conditions: full sun, and well drained soil full of organic matter. Organic matter, organic matter, organic matter… Are you sick of hearing about it yet? Organic matter contributes to the health of the soil: gives soil nutrients, aerates soil for better root growth, helps soil retain moisture, while at the same times allows soil to drain better.

So, for the health of your plants, make sure your soil has organic matter. I wouldn’t keep saying it if it weren’t important.

The easiest way to add organic matter is to just work a little compost into your soil. Get a composter (or make your own) and make your own by recycling kitchen and yard waste. Or, buy compost or a soil amendment will do the same thing. But, it’s cheaper just to go ahead and make your own compost.

How to Plant Summer Squash
Rethink how many summer squash plants you need. It just takes a few plants to feed a family. Plant summer squash in a container, or a garden. Here’s how:
For planting summer squash in containers, make sure your pot is at least 12 inches wide, that’s about a 5 gallon pot. Pots will dry out fast. That will be your biggest container gardening obstacle. Consider using a fabric pot or a self watering planter, so help control the soil moisture level.

Soil temperature should be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit before you plant your summer squash. Plant seeds ½ inches deep and six inches apart. Thin out after seedlings after they emerge, but will need at least two leaves to keep growing. Mature bush summer squash plants should be 20 inches apart in rows that are spaced 2 feet apart. If growing a vine variety, planting in hills works well. Plant about 5 seeds per hill. After seedlings emerge and are established, thin to three plants. Stake or provide a trellis for vining varieties.

Transplanting is a good idea with summer squash, too. Start seeds indoors about four weeks prior to the last frost date. Don’t forget to harden off your seedlings, meaning slowly adjust them to the outdoor climate and sun.

Consider staggering you plantings of summer squash too. Planting two weeks apart can keep you harvesting summer squash a little longer. And, don’t forget you get a lot of summer squash from one plant. I think that is why sometimes squash gets a bad wrap. It’s a great tasting vegetable, and easy to grow.
Golden Crookneck Squash
Companion Plants for Summer Squash
Beans, corn, cucumbers, icicle radishes, melon, mint, onions and pumpkin. Helpers: Borage deters worms, improves growth and flavor. Marigolds deters beetle. Nasturtium deters squash bugs and beetles. Oregano provides general pest protection. Dill may repel the squash bug that will kill your squash vines. Generously scatter the dill leaves on your squash plants. Keep squash away from potatoes.

Maintaining Your Summer Squash Plants
Consistent watering is key with summer squash. Mulch helps a lot with maintaining soil moisture. So, put a good layer of mulch down around summer squash plants. Provide a trellis for support for vining summer squashes to grow.

You might need to assist with pollination. If you are growing just a few plants, you might have to help. Here’s how to do it, and no, you probably didn’t learn this in school. The first flowers that bloom are males. These appear about 40-50 days after planting. A week later the female flowers develop, which will produce the fruit after fertilized by the male flowers. So, to help: pick the first male blooms and brush them against the female bloom. This will help increase the output of summer squash.

When to Use Organic Fertilizer
Use an organic fertilizer on summer squash at the time of transplanting. Fertilize again, in about a month. Organic fertilizer is important. We need safe, healthy foods. But also, you don’t want to endanger any beneficial insect helping you with your pollination duties.

Harvesting Summer Squash
Harvest summer squash early. They will taste better when tender, and you’ll want to keep the fruit off the plant so it keeps producing. So, pick when the summer squash is about 2 inches in diameter, or 6-8 inches long. Pattypan squash is best when it reaches 3 inches in diameter, and is still a little pale. If your Pattypan squash gets a little larger, those are great to stuff.

Summer Squash Pests and Diseases
Don’t forget to check summer squash plants for pests often. Squash bugs will set in pretty quickly. They will be your biggest pest problems. Ok, cucumber beetles like summer squash plants, too. Neem oil is a great organic choice to get rid of these bugs.  Use DIATOMACEOUS EARTH from the very beginning to deter bugs!
Keep an eye out, too, for these pests and diseases: bacteria wilt, squash vine borers, mosaic virus, and mildew. 
All winter squash varieties are easy to grow, and butternuts, buttercups and other types with dense flesh can stand in for carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes in any recipe.

Butternut squash combine rich flavor and smooth texture with natural resistance to squash vine borers. These bottle-shaped fruits have buff-brown rinds and will store for six months or longer.
Butternut Squash
In spring, sow seeds in prepared beds or hills after your last frost has passed, or sow them indoors under bright fluorescent lights. Set out seedlings when they are about three weeks old. In Zone 6 and warmer, you can plant more winter squash in early summer, using space vacated by fall-planted garlic or early spring lettuce. Stop planting winter squash 14 weeks before your expected first fall frost.

How to Plant Winter Squash
Winter squash grows best in warm conditions, in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Choose a sunny site and prepare 3-foot-wide planting hills within wide rows, or position them along your garden’s edge. Leave 5 to 6 feet between hills. Loosen the soil in the planting sites to at least 12 inches deep. Thoroughly mix in a 2-inch layer of mature compost and a light application of balanced, organic fertilizer. Water well. Plant six seeds per hill, poking them into the soil 1 inch deep. After seeds germinate (about 10 days after sowing), thin seedlings to three per hill. Set up protective row covers as soon as you’re done planting.
Spaghetti Squash
Harvesting and Storage
Fruits are ripe if you cannot easily pierce the rind with your fingernail. Never rush to harvest winter squash, though, because immature fruits won’t store well. Unless pests or freezing weather threaten them, allow fruits to ripen until the vines begin to die back. Expect to harvest three to five squash per plant. Use pruning shears to cut fruits from the vine, leaving 1 inch of stem attached. Clean away dirt with a soft, damp cloth, and allow fruits to cure for two weeks in a spot that’s 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Store cured squash in a cool, dry place, such as your basement, a cool closet or even under your bed. Check every two weeks for signs of spoilage.

Winter squash face challenges from squash bugs, squash vine borers and cucumber beetles. To defend your plants from all three insects, shield them with row covers held aloft with stakes or hoops until the plants begin to bloom. Big, healthy plants will produce well despite pest pressure. Among diseases, powdery mildew is a common problem best prevented by growing resistant varieties, which often have “PMR” (for “powdery mildew resistance”) after their variety names. In addition, a spray made of 1 part milk and 6 parts water can suppress powdery mildew if applied every two weeks during the second half of summer.

Winter Squash Growing Tips and Ideas
Grow open-pollinated varieties so you can save your own seeds for eating and replanting. Only choose hybrids if you need a space-saving bush habit or a special form of disease resistance.

Try growing winter squash in an old compost pile located along the edge of your garden. Small-fruited varieties do well if allowed to scramble up a fence.


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3 comments:

Patricia Miller said...

If you plant a radish seed or two with your squash and just leave it there and let it go to seed, it helps to keep away the squash boring beetles. It always works for me.

Crochet Hooks said...

Great article! Very helpful to learn from someone who has already done it. Great tip from Patricia too :) Thanks!

Lisa Murano said...

Great post! Thanks for linking up to Green Thumb Thursday. I've chosen you as my featured post!

Please stop by and grab a badge for your blog!
Thanks,
Lisa