A squash plant.
image by The Marmot/Flickr.com, Linda N./Flickr.com, net efekt/Flickr.com
Summer squash is a good vegetable for beginning and seasoned gardeners alike. It grows well and produces large volumes of fruit. The most common are the yellow squash, zucchini and pattypan squashes. They like warm weather and will thrive when planted anytime after the danger of frost has passed. Harvest the squash young to keep the plants producing all summer. Plant a spring crop and another in the late summer to keep the squash producing until the first winter freeze.
Prepare the soil by adding lots of organic compost before planting. Dig or spade to a depth of 12 to 18 inches to loosen the soil. Remove rocks and mix in at least 4 inches of compost or well-rotted manure. Add a good vegetable garden fertilizer or organic fertilizer.
If the soil is very rocky or composed of hard clay, you might wish to grow your squash in a raised bed. Build a bed 12 to 18 inches deep and fill it with good quality potting soil with one-third organic compost or composted manure mixed in.
Sow the seeds a half inch to 1 inch deep in a row or in hills in the spring or early summer, as soon as the soil has warmed to 70 degrees F. In rows, place the seeds 2 to 3 feet apart, or plant four or five seeds in each hill. Space the hills 4 feet apart. Thin the plants when 2 to 3 inches tall by removing all but the two strongest plants from each hill.
In cold climates, you can plant seeds earlier by covering the soil with black plastic. Punch or cut a hole in the plastic to plant a seed. Remove the plastic once the plants begin to flower.
Water the seeds well once planted and daily during the hot summer months. An automated drip system or a soaker hose works well to keep the plants watered without wetting the plants. Water at the base of the plants to help prevent powdery mildew that can quickly kill the plant and spread to surrounding plants.
Watch for signs of squash bugs and cucumber beetles that feed on the leaves of the plant. Squash vine borers tunnel through the stem and kill the plants. Control these pests by the application of a pesticide as soon as the problem is identified.
Harvest summer squash while they are still small- to medium-size, approximately 4 to 8 inches long by cutting the stem with a sharp knife. Pattypan squash are ready to harvest when they are 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Smaller fruit are more tender and preferred for eating. When the squash get too large they will become tough and the plant will stop producing. Do not harvest the squash when the plants are damp to avoid spreading disease. Once the plants flower the squash grow very quickly, so harvest your squash daily.
Harvest squash blossoms if you have more squash than you need. The blossoms are edible raw or cooked. Harvest the blossoms in the afternoon when the flowers are in full bloom. Cut the flower and about an inch of stem. You can store the squash blossoms in water in the refrigerator for a day or two.