Squash - Summer or Winter?
Which is your favorite?
The terms Summer and Winter squash date back to a time when the seasons were more crucial to human survival than they are now. These seasonal squash terms can be confusing as you might think they relate to the time of year something is grown but they actually are terms that designate which squash are able to be stored throughout the winter without spoilage.
Given our current global vegetable distribution system one can get any kind of squash they are craving at any time of the year (not that it is actually going to taste good after travelling thousands of miles to the store)
It was a discussion about squash that got me into the Good to Grown endeavor in the first place! When a friend asked me if we could plant some winter squash (in October) - it made me realize that many folks may not know that those delicious winter squash we see in the store in the fall require much earlier planting and growing time frames.
Summer Squash Tidbits
Summer squash are more thinned skin squashes like zucchini or yellow crookneck squashes that are starting to show up at farmers markets in the Seattle area. These plants produce more quickly than winter squash varietals. I have actually already harvested six from my garden already! Summer squash is best eaten fresh and can be easily grilled, steamed or sauteed. They cook quickly and a little olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs can be tossed in to add flavor. For these squash - the smaller size the better, as they are more tender and flavorful.
Winter Squash Tidbits
Winter squash are hard skinned squashes and they have a longer growing time (can take as long up to 3-4 months for some varietals. The hard skin and firm flesh of winter squash make them ideal for curing and storing through the winter - hence ther name “winter squash.” If you are growing winter squash at home you want to let them cure out in the sunshine in the garden for as long as possible before harvesting. A winter squash will not taste as good if it has not had time to mature before it is picked
Squashes are part of the Cucurbit family (which includes cucumbers, melons, gourds, and pumpkins) and they can be difficult to pollinate. These plants have male and female flowers and you need to get these couples together if you want squash!.
Bees typically help us out by carrying the pollen from male to female flowers but you can also give Mother Nature a boost and increase your squash supplies by hand pollinating. All you have to do is pluck a opened male flower from the plant and gently press the anther (which contains the pollen) from the male flower into the stigma of a female flowers. I have found that hand pollinating cucumbers, zucchini, and squash results in more fruits per plant. Give it a try in your garden!
Squash plants tend to grow very large and can take up a lot of space. I like using trellises to support my plants as they take up less ground space and I think it positions the flowers more upright for improved pollination.
Water and Fertilization
To determine when to your plants water, push your finger down a few inches into the soil near the base of the plant. While the top of the soil may appear to be dry, there could still be a good amount of moisture deeper down. When watering summer squash plants focus on the base of the plant. A slow, deep soak a few times a week is the best way to water. Avoid watering the tops of the plants as this can encourage diseases to develop.
Adding fertilizer to enrich and replenish the soil's nutrients encourages the squash plants to continue to produce fruits throughout the growing season. I add a slow release balanced fertilier to the soil once a month, and boost the plants with a liquid fish fertilizer every other week to ensure good production.
Most squash plants will eventually sucumb to powdery mildew before the end of the season. If you notice a fine white power on your squash leaves try to get in front of it by removing the affected leaves as soon as you see it. A simple way to prevent and control powdery mildew is by spraying a mixture of milk and water with a few tablespoons of baking soda directly on the leaves of the plant. The baking soda will increase the pH levels on the leaf surface which will make it difficult for the spores to survive and the milk boosts the plant’s immune system and helps squash fight powdery mildew and other diseases.
Follow these basic instructions for your squash plants and you will be Good to Grow! You will soon be enjoying summer squash on your table and later winter squash for your holiday tables.