Get Growing! Delicious Summer Squash

Grow fresh, tender summer squash all season long right in your own backyard.

Story by Gene B. Bussell

Summer begins with the first picking of yellow squash the color of bright sunshine. This luscious vegetable garden standard is easy to grow—and it's prolific. It's also versatile in the kitchen. You can eat it grilled, roasted, fried, baked, sautéed, stuffed, or pickled. You can also eat it raw, and even eat the flowers.

Squash 101

Soil | Fertile, well-drained soil amended with organic matter

Water | Water weekly, especially while fruiting, to keep soil moist and prevent leaves from wilting.

Harvest | Cut with sharp scissors or a knife.

Select Squash
There are three types of summer squash to grow: yellow, zucchini, or pattypan. Each type has many different selections. For yellow squash, try a straightneck one such as 'Slick Pik,' or plant crooknecks such as 'Gentry' and 'Supersett.' For zucchini, use 'Black Beauty,' 'Tigress,' or 'Raven.' For pattypan, try 'Sunburst' or 'Peter Pan.' Squash needs a good bit of room in the garden. If you don't have much space, plant smaller selections such as 'Sweet Zuke' or 'Saffron,' which will thrive in large containers.

Prep Squash
Summer squash loves warm weather and grows best in full sun. It also prefers rich, well-drained soil amended with a lot of organic matter, such as composted manure, chopped leaves, or mushroom compost. Give your plants a little bit more of a boost with an organic fertilizer such as Happy Frog Fruit & Flower (5-8-4) (planetnatural.com). Add a layer of mulch such as pine straw to help conserve moisture, keep roots cool, and prevent weeds.

Grow Squash
Sow seeds in hills 3 to 4 feet apart in warm soil. Plant two rows of hills side by side for better pollination and fruiting. Sow five to seven seeds per hill 1 inch deep. Firm the soil and gently water. Thin seedlings to the two most vigorous plants. Squash have large orangey yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers. The first blooms are usually male and the females follow. (Female flowers have a tiny squash behind the bloom.) Don't worry if your flowers fall off—male blossoms drop off after shedding their pollen—that's normal, and remember you can eat the flowers. They are best picked right before they open, and are delicious fried.

Protect Squash
You may not be the only one who loves your squash plants. Pests include squash vine borers and squash bugs. To deter these culprits, grow your plants under row covers (johnnyseeds.com). Remove covers once flowers appear so bees can pollinate the blooms. Organically control squash bugs by spraying with Neem Oil Extract (lowes.com). Powdery mildew is the most common disease; choose disease-resistant selections, provide good air circulation, and avoid overhead watering. Also, every year rotate where you plant your squash and clean up after the growing season.