By Josie Borlongan, Garden Guides Contributor
About Summer Squash
A summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) is an annual plant that trails for several feet and forms a compact plant of three feet (90 cm) spread. Summer squash fruit have a cylindrical shape about 12 inches (30 cm) long and 5 inches (13 cm) in diameter. They may be trailing or bushy with green, yellow, white or striped skin. Summer squash are best grown during warmer seasons with ideal temperatures between 64 and 81 degrees F (18 to 27 degrees C).
Sow when the soil temperature is at least 59 degrees F (15 degrees C). Prepare holes at least 12 inches (30 cm) wide and deep, working in plenty of well-rotted compost or manure as you backfill. Cover with about 6 inches (15 cm) of manured soil made into small mounds to ensure sharp drainage.
Summer squash is generally insect-pollinated; however, during colder seasons, if fruits are not setting, it may be necessary to hand pollinate. The female flower has a tiny bump (the embryonic fruit) behind the petals that the male flower lacks making it easy to distinguish between them.
Choosing a Variety
Custard squash have flat and flute-edged fruits, whereas crookneck squash have swollen fruits with a characteristic bent neck. There are also round-fruited cultivars. Spaghetti squash are squash-like in shape but with hard skins; it is so named because when they are cooked the flesh resembles that of spaghetti. The recommended summer squash are Butterstick, Clarimore, Golden Crookneck, Magda, Papaya Pear, Peter Pan, Scallopini, Seneca Prolific, Starship, Sunburst, Sundance and Spaghetti squash, such as Orangetti Pasta and Vegetable Spaghetti.
Place each seed about an inch (2.5 cm) deep. Sow in their natural environment after the frost has passed. You can also germinate the seeds indoors in small pots. Space bush types 3 feet (90 cm) apart and trailing types 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 2 m) apart. Protect young plants with cloches or floating row covers in cool areas. In hot areas, floating row covers can be used to protect against insects. Apply mulch after planting.
Grow trailing types up supporting fences, nets or stakes or allow them to twine up strings. The shoots may be trained in circles, using bent wires to peg down the stems. Toward the end of the growing season, nip off the ends of the shoots. As fruiting continues, fertilize plants every two weeks with a high potassium fertilizer or equivalent organic fertilizer. Water plants regularly during the growing period, especially after transplanting, so that plants establish quickly. Watering is also essential during flowering and fruiting to ensure healthy fruit formation. Watch out for pests and diseases. Slugs may attack in early stages; squash vine borers, cucumber mosaic virus, spotted cucumber beetles and striped cucumber beetles have been known to cause problems.
Harvesting and Storage
The best time to harvest summer squash is seven to eight weeks after planting. Some varieties may be stored for a few weeks if they are kept in a well ventilated area about 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) with high humidity. Spaghetti squash may be stored longer, up to several months in similar environment. Harvest shoots from the top 6 inches (15 cm) of the stem. From there, new growth will appear. If you are harvesting flowers, pick the male ones after the females have set.