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By Brenda H. Reed
Freelance Writer

Yellow crookneck and zucchini are delicious and grow very well here in Texas. There are so many other varieties that are just as easy to grow and are prolific producers as well. Delicata (these striped squash resemble the taste of a sweet potato), Sunburst Scallop (a variety of Patty Pan), Butternut, Spaghetti, Table Queen, Hubbard, and many others. All of these squashes thrive very well in Texas. Of course, it will depend upon the amount of space you have for growing them, as to what and how many varieties you can plant. Squash can be trained to climb on a fence or trellis to save garden space. 

Summer squash have thin skins and may be eaten raw or cooked. Winter squash have thick, hard skins. That is the basic difference between the two. Their growing requirements are the same; neither grows in cool weather. They should be planted in the spring when all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature is 60 to 70 degrees. You can buy a soil thermometer at a good garden supply. They may also be planted in the summer for a late harvest as long as they produce before the weather turns cool. I grow them in the spring for a summer harvest.

Planting
Squash are heavy feeders. Work some compost, aged rabbit manure, or chicken house litter into the soil before planting if you have it. We till these items into the soil and let it lay for a couple of weeks before planting. You may also use a commercial fertilizer with these nutrients, or by itself. They make the soil rich and looser. Notice whether the varieties you are planting are bush-types or vining. Plant the bush varieties together and keep the viners together. I find direct seeding to be the best way to plant squash. Make sure the soil is kept moist enough for the seed to germinate. Plant the seed in hills of three or four seeds per hill. The hills should be two to three feet apart. The seeds should be planted 2.5 inches deep. When the seedlings are big enough to tell which plants will be the strongest, thin the weaker ones out. Don't pull them up because that may damage the roots of the other seedlings. Instead, pinch them at ground level. Mulch the plants when they are tall enough with two or three inches of hay, grass clippings, pine straw, or leaves. It's not a good idea to use black plastic unless you are trying to warm the soil. It will make the plants too hot in the summer so if you use it, remove it before the weather turns hot.

Feeding and Watering
With our hot, and often dry summers, everything in the garden needs extra water that Mother Nature doesn't supply when needed. Try to water squash at the roots and not on the foliage, or use drip irrigation to lessen the chances of them getting a disease. In very dry summers, I water about three times per week. Use a water-soluble fertilizer once a month, or side dress with the granular type.

Pollination
If you have beautiful squash plants with plenty of blooms, yet no fruit, you may have a problem with pollination. So many people still use pesticides with no regard to the destruction of beneficial insects that it has reduced the number of honeybees, bumblebees, and other beneficial insects in our gardens. We had that problem for the first few years. We had some terrific squash plants and little or no production. After we brought a couple of hives of honeybees in, the problem ceased. Now, every bloom produces. Honeybees and bumblebees are the best pollinators. Bad weather may lessen the bees' activity, so that may slow a crop's production. When it rains for days, they aren't as active, for instance.

Squash plants have both female and male blooms. Sometimes, a plant will have all male blooms at first, and then the female ones appear. It is necessary for both sexes of blooms to be present to produce.

Male and Female Blooms
Female blossoms have a little, round "ovary" at the base of their flowers. Male blossoms have a long, thin stem at the base of theirs. If you don't have enough bees for good pollination, or if it has been raining frequently (making the bees less active), you can easily pollinate the blossoms yourself. I use two methods:

  1. Take a male blossom from a squash plant, and just lightly brush female flowers with it. Use one male blossom for up to 10 females.
  2. Use a slender brush (such as an eye shadow makeup brush), or a cotton swab to transfer the dust-like pollen from the male to the female blossoms. The best time to do this is early morning.

Insects and Disease
Powdery mildew occurs in squash when the weather is very warm and humid. The symptom of this disease is a white growth on the leaves, making them appear to have been sunburned. If not controlled, this disease will leave the plants dried up and dead. Instead of treating the disease in a full-blown aspect, use preventative measures. Mix 1 gallon of water and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Mix this well and spray it on the squash leaves, making sure that you spray the underside of the leaves. Treat the plants every two weeks. Prune the plants to increase air circulation. Planting the squash too closely encourages this disease. Also, try to avoid overhead watering - drip or furrow irrigation works best.

Vine borers and squash bugs are the most prevalent pests on squash. You can hand pick the squash bugs from the plants, but the borers are more difficult. Once they get into the vine, they simply suck the life out of the plants. The plants will wilt and die. A good way to confuse most garden predators is to plant other plants amongst their favorite meal. Mint, basil, marigolds, and radishes confuse them, as do many other plants.

Preventing Problems
Keep the vegetable garden clean. Always dispose of plants that are spent or appear to be diseased. Don't put diseased plants into the compost bin. Between seasons, allow chickens and guineas (if you have them) into the garden to clean up the overpopulation of pests. Disinfect garden tools: Mix about one cup of bleach with one gallon of water. Dip trowels, pruning shears, and other tools after each use. Practice crop rotation.

Harvesting and Storage
Don't pull the squash from their vines because it could break the stems. Cut them. Gather summer squash when they are about 2 inches in length for use in salads; for frying, harvest them at a length of about 6 inches. When they are over-mature, they get seedy. Winter squash should be mature before harvesting. Most aren't eaten raw. Different varieties mature differently: Spaghetti squash will look fat and have a soft, almost yellow tint when ripe. Butternut squash will be tan. Table queen will be fat and green. Hubbard, a variety of acorn squash, will also appear full and deep green. Delicata squash will have a cream-colored flesh with dark green stripes. This variety tastes a little bit like a sweet potato. Most varieties of winter squashes are best baked.

The thick, hard-skinned varieties of winter squash, such as butternut, store very well. They will keep for months when kept cool and out of the sun. Spaghetti squash is a good keeper as well. I use a small produce cupboard to store them. Summer squash, with their thin skins, need to be used, refrigerated, or blanched and frozen. They won't keep for more than a couple of days if not refrigerated, and about a week if refrigerated.

RECIPES

Shredded Zucchini

2 small zucchini,
   shredded (two cups)
1 tablespoon butter or
   margarine
Salt to taste

   In a 10-inch skillet, combine zucchini, salt, and butter; cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until tender and crisp.
   Makes four servings.

Rosemary Roasted
Butternut Squash

3 tablespoons butter
   or margarine
1 large butternut
   squash
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion,
   chopped
1 teaspoon dried
   rosemary, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon black
   pepper

   1. Preheat oven to 400. Place butter in a small roasting pan; put the pan in oven to melt the butter.

Cut squash in half, lengthwise; spoon the seeds out. Remove peel from squash with a peeler and cut squash into two-inch pieces. 
   2. In a large bowl, combine onion, salt, rosemary, and pepper. Add squash and toss to coat. Add squash mixture to melted butter in pan, again tossing to coat. Arrange squash in a single layer and roast until tender, about 35 minutes.
   Makes six servings.

Roasted Patty
Pan Squash

2 pounds very
   small squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground
   black pepper
Chopped fresh
   parsley

   1. Preheat oven to 400. Wash squash under cold water. In a medium-sized roasting pan, toss squash, oil, salt, and pepper to coat.
   2. Roast until tender, about one hour. To serve, sprinkle with parsley.
   Makes six servings.

 

SQUASH SOURCES

Willhite Seed, Inc.
www.willhiteseed.com

Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co.
www.gurneys.com

Thompson and Morgan
www.thompson-morgan.com

Main Street Seed and Supply
www.mainstreetseedandsupply.com




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