Few vegetables give you as big a return on your investment of time and energy as squash. There are two main forms, both derived from various species native to the Americas. Summer squash is harvested all summer long, while still soft skinned and immature. It's served steamed, sauted, or fried. Winter squash is harvested in late summer and fall after it has matured and developed a tough skin; it stores very well and is used for baking, stuffing, and pies. A special kind of winter squash, called spaghetti squash, can substitute for pasta; its nutty-tasting flesh consists of long, spaghetti-like strands.
Each individual squash plant produces both male and female flowers, with the female flowers forming fruit after bees transfer pollen from male blossoms. The first flowers are typically male, so if your vine doesn't start fruiting right away, be patient. The blossoms and developing fruit at the base of female flowers are eaten as delicacies.
Summer squash yields prodigious crops from just a few plants and continues to bear for many weeks. The three most popular types are yellow (both straightneck and crookneck), zucchini, and pattypan (also called scallop). Plant immediately after the last spring frost, then again three weeks later for an extended harvest. Summer squash is usually planted in hills (mounds) spaced 34 ft. apart. For better pollination and fruiting, plant two rows of hills side by side instead of one long row. Vines are large (up to 5 ft. at maturity) and need plenty of room; if space is limited, plant bush types such as 'Peter Pan' and 'Sweet Zuke'.
Sow five to seven seeds per hill, planting them 1 in. deep. Thin seedlings to the strongest two plants per hill. Four weeks after planting, fertilize each hill with 14 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Fruit reaches harvest size quickly, usually within five to seven days after the flowers open. Pick yellow squash when they're 46 in. long, zucchini when 68 in. long, and pattypans when 35 in. wide. Don't allow fruit to reach full maturity on the vines, as this may halt production.
Good yellow straightneck selections include 'Early Prolific Straightneck' (48 days from sowing to harvest), 'Seneca Prolific' (50 days), and 'Park's Super Creamy' (55 days). For yellow crookneck, try 'Yellow Crookneck' (58 days), 'Early Golden Summer' (53 days), and 'Sunglo' (40 days). Recommended zucchini selections include 'Embassy' (45 days), 'Costata' (50 days), 'Black Beauty' (50 days), 'Gold Rush' (45 days), and 'Burpee Hybrid' (50 days). Among the best pattypans are 'Sunburst' (52 days), 'Scallopini' (50 days), and 'White Pattypan' (60 days). Novelties include 'Eight Ball' (40 days), a round zucchini; 'Bush Baby' (49 days), miniature zucchini; 'Golden Egg' (41 days), a golden, egg-shaped zucchini; 'Magda' (50 days), a white-fleshed, nutty-tasting squash shaped like a thick zucchini to 4 in. long; and 'Kuta' (48 days), a light green squash that can be eaten like summer squash at 6 in. long or allowed to mature into a 1-ft. winter squash.
Winter squash typically needs more room than summer squash. Plant smaller types, such as acorn, buttercup, butternut, and spaghetti squash, in hills spaced 45 ft. apart. These produce fruit weighing 2 to 5 pounds. Large types, such as banana and Hubbard, bear fruit weighing 12 to 15 pounds or more; they require 57 ft. between hills and 610 ft. between rows. Planting and care are the same as for summer squash. Fruit is ready to harvest when you can't pierce the skin with your thumbnail. Cut the squash from the vine, leaving 12 in. of stem attached; store in a cool, dry place.
Recommended winter squash selections include acorn types 'Table Ace' (70 days), 'Jersey Golden' (70 days), and 'Cream of the Crop' (85 days); buttercup type 'Sweet Mama' (85 days); butternut types 'Waltham Butternut' (105 days), 'Pilgrim' (85 days), and 'Nicklow's Delight' (78 days); spaghetti types 'Tivoli' (98 days) and 'Pasta Hybrid' (85 days); banana type 'Pink Banana Jumbo' (120 days); and Hubbard type 'Blue Hubbard' (100 days). 'Green Striped Cushaw' (110 days) is a light green, creamy-striped squash with light yellow flesh; the fruit is bulb-shaped with a curved neck and can reach 40 pounds.