How to Grow Superb Summer Squashcomments (9) May 20th, 2009
There is no doubt about it-summer squash is a prolific producer. Around here folks lock their car doors in midsummer, not to prevent theft but to keep gardeners from throwing their excess zucchini into the back seat. We avoid tiring of zucchini by growing a wide range of the tastiest summer squash varieties and harvesting them at their peak. By planting several succession crops, watering the root zone with the help of sunken pots, and smothering weeds with a cover crop, we reap a steady harvest from healthy plants over a long season. This keeps summer squash high on the list of favorites for the members of our community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, Five Springs Farm.
Begin succession planting when the soil warms
We keep summer squash in harvest throughout the season with succession plantings. We plant half our summer squash when the ground has thoroughly warmed up after the last frost. The soil temperature must be 65°F or higher for good germination. We used to start squash (which has very delicate roots) inside and transplant out after threat of frost, but we found that seeds planted along with the transplants matured at about the same time. If you need to plant inside because of cool soil, give each plant its own pot, and carefully transplant into the garden two weeks later. Squash plants are very tender and need protection if a late frost threatens.
A month after the first planting, we do a second sowing. If we can find the space, we will do an additional planting a few weeks after that. We pull out and compost the first plants as they slow down. This gives us young, strong, prolific plants until the first fall frost.
Sink pots for deep watering
|An ordinary 1-gallon plastic nursery pot with holes on both the sides and the bottom can be used to create a well in the center of the squash hill.|
When we plant squash in the late spring, we are already thinking ahead about how to make summer watering easier. We begin by sowing squash seeds in hills 4 feet apart, though some garden guides suggest that 3 feet is sufficient. To prepare the bed, we mark where the hills will be and dig a hole 2 feet deep by 1 or 2 feet wide. Summer squash requires fertile soil to support its large leaves and rapid growth, so we put in a couple of shovelfuls of compost and build a hill with the garden dirt dug from the hole. As we backfill the hole, we bury a 1-gallon nursery pot in the middle. Landscapers throw these pots away by the dozen, so it's easy to find several for free. The rim of the pot should be an inch or two out of the ground when the hill is finished, and there should be no soil in the pot. We plant four to six seeds per hill, about 1⁄2 inch deep. We just poke them into the ground 2 to 3 inches away from the pots.
|To prepare a planting hill, dig a hole 2 feet deep and fill lit half full with compost. The plant roots will respond with vigor when they reach the compost.||Place the pot in the center of the hole, with the lip extending above the ground 1 to 2 inches. Backfill the hole with the original soil.||Prepare the seed bed by raking the soil smooth around the pot and tamping it down with a soil rake. Try to avoid getting any soil in the pot.|
Once the seeds have germinated, we thin each hill to the two or three strongest plants. The plants turn a deep green when the squash roots hit the compost. As the plants grow larger, the sunken nursery pots give us the advantage of watering at root level. We also shovel some compost into the pots later in the season to give the plants compost tea as we water. Summer squash is a thirsty plant; we water in the nursery pots once or twice a week, even if there has been rain.
|Cross section of a squash hill|
To make watering easier, sink a pot in the ground at planting time and sow the squash seeds around the outside of the pot. When you fill the pot with water, it drains out the holes in the bottom, immediately reaching the roots of the plants. Plant a cover crop of hairy vetch around the hills to discourage weeds and feed the soil.
Fertilize and control weeds with hairy vetch
|A handful of hairy vetch seeds is all that's needed to sow a cover crop between two hills of squash 4 feet apart.|
When the seedlings are up and thinned, it's time to plant hairy vetch between the hills. The vetch prevents erosion and keeps the ground cooler on hot summer days. It also crowds out most weeds in the space between the hills. But its greatest virtue is that, as a legume, it changes the nitrogen in the air into a form that can be taken up by the squash plants, a process known as nitrogen fixation.
To plant the vetch, we broadcast the seeds thickly on bare ground, starting about 6 inches from the squash seedlings, then rake them in and tamp lightly with the back of the rake. We water frequently until the vetch is well established. During fall clean up, we turn it into the soil to enhance the bed for next year's crop.
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