Desert Gardener: Summer squash are prolific producers

February 18, 2002|By Keith S. Mayberry, Cooperative Extension adviser

About five or six summer squash plants can feed an average family. A couple dozen squash plants can feed the whole neighborhood! Summer squash are prolific producers.

There are many kinds of squashes that are known collectively as "summer squash." The normal type grown is zucchini or Italian squash. Most people think of zucchini as being dark green cylinders similar to cucumbers. However, there is a bright yellow zucchini and stubby fat gray zucchini as well. Gray zucchini is a favorite among the Middle Eastern and Mexican cultures as it lends well to being hollowed out and stuffed with meat, rice or other vegetables before being cooked.

Another favorite is yellow crookneck squash, which has a neck shaped like a fishhook. If you prefer there is a yellow straightneck version but the taste is similar between the two. The flavor of yellow "neck" squash is milder than zucchini.

My wife's personal favorite is scallop, also called "summer" by traditional squash farmers. These squash look like green flying saucers. They are tasty simply steamed with a little butter tossed on while they are hot.


Summer squash are easy to grow. Locate a good sunny spot and work up the soil as you would for any flowers or vegetables. Apply some complete fertilizer containing phosphate to the soil surface and blend it well in the top 6 inches of soil.

You can make beds or just grow the squash on the flat. Squash also grows well in half barrels or large pots. Individual plants can be grown among the flowers, provided you allow some extra space for the squash to spread out.

Select the kinds of summer squash that you prefer and buy a few packets of seed. Place two seeds about 3/4- to 1-inch deep. Move over 18 to 24 inches and plant two more seeds. Continue planting at this spacing, giving the plants lots of room to grow. Make the rows 18 to 24 inches apart.

Water the seed and in a few days the plants will start to sprout. After the plants grow about 2 inches tall, remove the second seedling by pinching the stem off near the soil line. Pinching is better than pulling so you do not disturb the root system of the remaining plant. The second plant was your insurance that you would have at least one good plant at each planting site (called "hills").

When the plants are about 10 to 12 inches tall, apply a top dressing of fertilizer containing nitrogen. Irrigate to activate the fertilizer. We did not specify a particular fertilizer as squash is not choosy as to what it is fed.

Soon the plants will produce large yellow flowers. Do not worry when the first flowers develop, then wither and fall off. This is normal, as the first blossoms are males that provide extra pollen to begin to attract bees, moths and other insects that do the work of pollination.

Next the plants will have blossoms with an enlarged base, which will grow to become the squash you harvest. We call these female flowers. The insects need to transfer pollen from one squash blossom to another to set fruit.

You may harvest summer squash at any stage of development. In fact, some people like to eat battered deep-fried squash blossoms. The skin of the squash should be soft and the seeds should not be hard.

Most people prefer to use zucchini when it is between a quarter and a half-dollar in diameter. Crookneck and straightneck are usually harvested when the fattest part is a half-dollar in diameter. Scallop is harvested when they are 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

If you try to skip a few days between harvests, you will regret it. A zucchini that is a quarter in diameter today will be a half-dollar size tomorrow and the next day it will be a rolling pin in size. This is why it is best to keep all the squash harvested when they become edible size.

If you have too many, share them with neighbors, friends and relatives until you wear out your welcome.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles