Different varities of summer squash.
image by La Grande Farmers' Market: Flickr.com
Summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) is also known as Italian marrow. It is a warm-season vegetable that can be grown after the last frost. Summer squash is different than fall and winter varieties because it is harvested before the rind hardens and the squash matures fully. The flowers that grow on the plants are edible and can be battered, fried or stuffed. Squash does not store well, so it is best to grow a few plants and tend them well.
Choose the variety of summer squash you want to plant. Summer squash comes in many shapes and colors. There are four groups of summer squash. Yellow summer squash is long and thin with straight or crooked necks. Zucchini is long, cylindrical and generally green. Scalloped or patty pan squash is flat and disc-shaped with scalloped edges. Mideast or cousa looks like a short, thick version of zucchini. Seeds are good for six years.
Plan the garden site in an area with full sun or light shade and well-drained soil. Use a tiller to loosen the soil 12 to 15 inches deep. Mix in a 2-to-4 inch layer of compost. Wait until the last frost has passed and the soil is 60 to 105 degrees F. The optimal temperature is 95 degrees F. Bush varieties are better for limited space.
Test the soil for optimal pH levels that are between 5.8 to 6.8. Most garden centers sell pH test strips and some offer testing on soil samples.
Plant the seeds 1 inch deep, with two to four seeds in hills that are 48 inches apart. Thin the crops to two or three plants per hill when the plants reach 2 to 3 inches tall. Snip off the extra plants with garden shears, being careful not to disturb the roots of the remaining plants. For rows of bushes, plant seeds 4 inches apart in rows that are 4 to 5 feet apart. Thin the rows to one plant every 12 to 24 inches.
Add mulch to the plants once they have grown at least five leaves. The mulch will help eliminate weeds and retain moisture. Make sure the plants get 1 inch of water per week, either through natural rainfall or with a watering can.
Harvest squash with shears while it is still small and tender. Pick elongated squash when it is 2 inches or less in diameter, and 6 to 8 inches long. Pick patty pan squash when it is 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Check the squash every day or so, and harvest regularly. Squash are generally ready to be picked four to eigh days after flowering.