Summer squash is actually a term that refers to a group of vine-grown veggies that form from the pollination of large, papery flowers into fleshy orbs. Zucchini, ranging from green to white, is oblong and narrow. Crookneck and straightneck squash, typically yellow, are bulbous at one end and narrow at the other. Patty pan, or scallops, have a disc appearance and are pale in color with a wavy edge like a pie crust. These summer veggies will save you money and provide healthy eats for your family if you follow a few growing tips for best results.
Plant summer squash seeds or starts only after the soil has become quite warm. Susceptible to frost death and cold weather injury, the seeds and starts of this summer veggie should not be planted until the soil is 60 degrees F at least 4 inches deep. Maintain the warmth by covering with a special plastic sheeting supported by hoops, available at garden centers. The cover holds in heat until average temperatures reach the 75-degree mark consistently.
Avoid blossom-end rot, a common disease in summer squash that results in large lesions of fuzzy dark growth which spoil the vegetable, by preparing the soil properly. Add organic mulch, such as well composted manure or pine bark, and incorporate to a depth of 1 foot into the soil. Use black plastic, known as polyethylene mulch, to cover the planting area prior to seeding. Poke a hole in the plastic to insert the seed into the ground. The plastic holds warmth and moisture in the soil, while later protecting the delicate fruit from that moisture which could encourage end rot.
Plant seeds at a distance of 4 to 6 inches apart, 1/2 an inch deep. Later, thin the seedlings by removing the least vigorous starts to leave 15 inches between healthy plants. Proper spacing ensures adequate room to grow and good air circulation to avoid disease spread. Summer squash may also be cultivated on hills in rows up to 6 feet apart. Mound hills in rows 4 inches apart, placing three seeds in each hill.
Don't skimp on water, especially when you see that the blossoms are beginning to yield fruit. Fruit set, the time when the blossom falls off and the immature fruit begins to develop, is the essential time to provide additional water. Always water in the morning to avoid wet foliage during the nighttime hours, which may promote disease spread. Soak the area well once per day rather than sprinkling over the surface frequently. Fewer, deeper waterings encourage deeper roots and healthier plants.