Summer squashes are a sub-variety of squash that are intended to be eaten with the skin on and immature. The designation 'summer squash' is an indication that they are picked in the summer - usually beginning in late June. Winter squashes, by contrast, are picked several months later and have a much tougher, inedible skin.
Most summer squashes can be treated the same way - they can be grilled with olive oil and vinegar, they do well au gratin, and they can be done in mixed vegetables. And of course, zucchini can make a fine bread.
Can I be frank? Honestly, I'm not a big fan.
Planting Time: MAY (in central Maryland)
Harvest Time: Late JUN-AUG (in central Maryland)
Spacing: 3-4 ft.
Zucchini is a relatively compact plant, almost like a small shrub. It grows fast, and zucchinis can appear within 6 weeks after planting. Generally, planting is done on small mounds, 3 or so seeds per mound, then thinned to one per in a few weeks.
Summer and winter squashes can both provide quite a bit of disappointment to a novice gardener - sometimes there are lots of flowers, but no melons. This is because these plants have female and male flowers - the female flowers have a little squash on the plant end of the flower, while the male plants just look like a flower on a stick. Bugs need to travel from the male flower to the female one to pollinate it, and this does not always happen. Additionally, sometimes there are only male or female flowers, so it just can't be done.
If both male and female flowers are out, you can pollinate them by taking a q-tip and carefully swiping the stamen of the male flower, then carefully rubbing that q-tip in the female flower. It sounds ridiculous, but it's not, and I know people who do this. I don't like zucchini (or pumpkins, or cucumbers) enough to bother. Here's a tutorial.
The biggest problem I have with zucchini plants is bugs. Squash bugs and stink bugs both bother my zucchinis, but the squash bugs are particularly damaging. They eat the leaves, they crawl all up in the stems, and the plant will actually die back. They tend to congregate and lay eggs on the bottom side of leaves, and you can pick off the bugs by hand or kill them with Diatomaceous Earth or other insecticides.
Summer squashes get picked early - slender kinds should be picked when they're about 6 inches long. If you let them go, they'll get bigger and bigger. One year we accidentally let one get as big as my forearm (which is not particularly puny), and it still tasted reasonable. That being said, there's no good reason to let them get big. There's a limited amount of squash anybody can consume.
How much do summer squash fertilizer recommendations vary?
- 1 Tbsp 6-10-10 per mound before planting, 1 Tbsp 33-0-0 after blooming and 3 weeks after (Purdue
- 1-2 lb. of complete fertilizer (like 5-10-5 or 12-12-12) before planting (more focused on nitrogen if the soil is heavily amended), 'light fertilizing' with nitrogen every 3-4 weeks thereafter (Cal Master Gardeners)
- 1 Tbsp 5-10-10 per mound before planting, plus every month thereafter. (SFGate)
- 1.5 lb. 10-10-10 per 100 square feet (BVG)
We don't preserve summer squash, and I am unsure what the best way would be. The water content of summer squashes don't take kindly to freezing (they'll probably get mushy), but perhaps they'll be OK for breads. I bet they can be canned too, but I won't be doing it.
Matt's Garden Notes:
Matt's 2013 Map
2012: Planted one zucchini plant. Had more zucchini than we needed, made plenty of bread. In the midseason, had serious bug problems that were killing the plant, and I was sick of zucchini, so I pulled it out.
2013: Planted three: two traditional zucchini and one round, light green variety. Picked plenty, but probably not much more than we got off of one. Additionally, had bug problems in all varieties and two of the plants died back pretty hard. Instead of pulling them out, I left the plant in the ground, and they appear to be recovering a little.
Recipes using Summer Squash: