How to Grow and Harvest Summer Squash
Zucchinis are coming out of every nook and cranny here on the farm! They grow so quickly and are absolutely beautiful this year. I have never grown more gorgeous squash than this year. We implemented some new techniques to our growing regimen, and it definitely shows. I am so excited to share the results of our experimentation and hopefully improve your own gardening/farming skills. Hooray for new ideas!
step one: planting late
The first experiment was by taking the advice of one of my fellow master gardeners. For the past couple of years, she has planted her squash late in the season, around mid to late June, rather than in late April or early May as is recommended by the seed packet. Why? It is her method of skipping the squash bug and vine borer cycle. I know! Sounds kind of crazy. The idea is in understanding how the insect pest works. Squash bugs are often looking for places to lay their eggs in late spring/early summer. By only providing them with plants that are too young for them brood their young, there is simply no place for them to go. The plants do not interest them.
I decided to take her advice this year, knowing I would not get summer squash until late July, thinking it would be worth it to have healthier squash without pesticides and to be one of the only growers with it late into the season. So far, it has worked! I have seen a significant drop in squash bug populations. I have actually only seen one or two. There are no signs of vine borers and zero eggs so far. Of course, it is still early, but I have really been enjoying this method. The plants look amazingly beautiful compared to my previous years growing!
step two: weed prevention
In addition to planting late, I also decided to plant our squash in weed barrier fabric this year. This also includes our winter squash, which is doing so well. Wow! We are going to have so many gorgeous, healthy squashes this year.
I believe the weed barrier fabric has also helped with pest prevention and sanitation of the plants. They do vine out over the fabric, which keeps the squash from becoming dirty or sitting in water and rotting. The plants are not competing with weeds at all and are receiving water from a drip line directly next to the roots. Sanitation has gone up significantly, and it shows. If you can plant your squash in weed barrier fabric, I would highly recommend doing so! We use DeWit Weed Barrier. It is a bit pricey, but it has a 20 year warranty and the quality is amazing.
Step three: drip irrigation
Whether you decide to plant later into the season or use a weed barrier, drip irrigation is absolutely necessary when it comes to growing squash. Squash leaves are easily susceptible to powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can cause plants to produce less fruit and even die. The mildew coats the leaves in a white powdery substance, preventing sunlight from reaching the leaves and thus lessening growth.
If you cannot use drip irrigation, make sure that when you are watering your squash plants, you direct all water at the roots and not on the leaves!
step four: time to harvest
Once plants have matured and show signs of fruit production, keep your eyes on them like a hawk! Summer squash produce extremely quickly and can grow a monster zucchini in a matter of days. We try to look through our patch every 1-2 days to ensure we are harvesting at the proper time. For most summer squash, you are looking for fruits that are between 8-12 inches long. These are the perfect size; much larger and the squash may become watery and filled with seeds. Most people do not enjoy that! When you do have a runaway squash (I found one just the other day that was over 4 pounds!), these can be shredded and used for breads or other baking/cooking. They work really well to freeze, too! Just make sure you squeeze out most of the water content after shredding.
step five: troubleshooting
If you notice that some of your squash are misshapen, this is a pollination issue and can be fixed by hand-pollinating your plants. You can learn more about how to hand-pollinate squash here!
If plant leaves are beginning to turn grey-brown, wilt, and become crumbly you probably have a squash bug problem. If this is the case, there are few control options you can follow to lessen the population. A good rule of thumb to follow is IPM (Integrated Pest Management), which is a holistic approach to gardening and uses all possible controls before resulting to chemical options. One would be to search for eggs, which are res and laid in clusters on the underside of squash leaves. Simply scrape off eggs and crush to remove. Another would be to shake off into a bucket of soapy water or squish any squash bugs you find. Diatomaceous earth is a great natural control for preventing the bugs from continuing wreaking havoc.
I hope that you enjoyed learning a little bit more about how we grow our various squash plants! What is your favorite type of squash to grow? Let me know in the comments!