How to Grow ZUCCHINI
Summer squash comes in a variety of shapes and colors. Bush varieties take up relatively little space, and if kept picked will keep producing right up to frost.
Seeds or Seedlings
5 to 10 days, 60F to 105F
Well Drained, High Fertility
12" to 24" apart
DAYS OF HARVEST
47 to 52
Squash like warm soil and are very sensitive to frost. So don’t be in a rush to plant early in spring. Wait until danger of frost has passed and soil has warmed to about 70 F, or about 2 weeks after the last frost date.
Direct seed ½ to 1 inch deep into hills (which warm and drain earlier in the season) or rows. Sow 4 to 5 seeds per hill. Space hills 3 to 4 feet apart. When the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin to 2 to 3 plants per hill by snipping off unwanted plants without disturbing the roots of the remaining ones. In rows, sow seeds 4 inches apart in rows 4 to 5 feet apart. Snip off plants to thin to one plant every 12 to 24 inches.
For extra early crops, start inside in 2- to 3-inch pots or cells 3 to 4 weeks before transplanting outside. Sow 3 or 4 seeds per pot and thin to one or two plants by snipping off the weaker plants to avoid damaging the roots of those that remain. Harden off by cutting back on water and reducing temperature before transplanting. Plant transplants out in the garden about 1 to 2 feet apart after all danger of frost has passed.
To hasten first harvest by as much as 2 weeks, use black plastic mulch to warm soil before direct seeding or transplanting. Early fruits are sometimes wrinkled, turn black or rot due to poor pollination.
At the end of the season, remove or till in vines to reduce mildew. Use row covers to protect plants early in the season and to prevent insect problems. Remove cover before flowering to allow pollination by insects or when hot weather arrives.
Mulching plants helps retain moisture and suppress weeds. Mounding soil around the base of the plants can discourage squash borers from laying eggs.
Zucchini squash, summer crookneck and patty pan are the most common varieties of squash grown in the summer garden. These members of the squash and pumpkin families are prolific producers. They normally begin to produce about 50 days after germination, and it's important to know when to harvest to ensure that you have a steady supply, throughout the summer.
Expect to begin harvesting your summer varieties of squash when they are immature. Winter varieties mature on the vine and develop a tough skin to facilitate better winter storage, but summer squash allowed to grow until large and gourd-like isn't good to eat. It's best to discard them or add them to the compost pile.
Check your squash as soon as you notice it blooming. Squash grows very
fast, and some squash is ready to pick a few days after it blooms. Check your garden every 1 to 2 days after that, because once it starts to producing, it continues steadily throughout the growing season. The more you pick, the more it will produce. For this reason, you may want to consider having only a few plants of each variety, unless you intend to feed the whole neighborhood.
Harvest the elongated varieties of squash, such as zucchini and yellow squash, when they are about 6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. The patty pan squash is best if picked when it's 4 inches or less in diameter. If you miss a day or two, and end up with larger squash, grate it and make bread or scoop it out and fill it with your favorite stuffing to bake.
Remove the squashes by cutting them from the vine with a sharp knife. They have very thin skins and bruise easily, so handle them gently. Wearing gloves is advisable, as the stalks may scratch or irritate your hands.
Store your squash in the refrigerator, unwashed. Moisture encourages decay of fresh vegetables, so place them in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper. If you have a large amount, place them in a plastic bag and handle them as little as possible to prevent bruising the delicate skin. They'll stay fresh for 3 to 5 days, under the proper storage conditions.
Scan for summer squash enemies while you are in the garden. The cucumber beetle and the squash bug are the two most common ones to look for. The cucumber beetle usually appears late in the growing season and may damage the mature fruit. Squash bugs begin to infest the vines as soon as the blossoms appear. They are usually in large groups and can damage the plant and the mature fruit. Check with your local gardening supply store for the proper course of treatment for these pests, because the sooner you get rid of them, the healthier your squash plants will be.
Consider harvesting squash blossoms, which are completely edible and are used in a variety of recipes, as well as eaten raw in salads. Use your sharp knife to harvest the blossoms or pick small squash with the blossom attached for an added treat. Gather them when the petals are open, leaving about an inch of stem intact. Use them within a day because they deteriorate rapidly once picked. They may last a few days longer if you rinse them and store them in ice water in the refrigerator.
Although best picked and enjoyed at their smallest possible size, “zukes” must be allowed to grow quite large to produce viable seeds. Other summer (non-storage) squashes, like summer crookneck, should also be left on the vine long past complete ripeness. Then cut them open, rinse the seeds well, and dry them in an airborne strainer or on a plate (not paper).When sample seeds can be snapped in half, store them in your envelope. Compost the remains.
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