If Summer Squash weren't so productive and easy to grow, it would probably be considered more of a delicacy. In our kitchen, it's as highly regarded as Eggplant and Asparagus, because we pick our Summer Squash young, when the skin is soft, the flesh tender and before the seeds have formed. To keep things interesting, we also grow many different sizes, shapes and colors~14 in all.
Commonly known as Zucchini or Courgette, Summer Squash belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo. While it is considered to be a vegetable, it's technically a fruit. We adore all sizes, shapes and colors of Summer Squash. This versatile, mild-flavored veggie easily unleashes the ingenious inner chef inside each of us. We can make it into whatever we want, whether savory or sweet, and take comfort in the fact that it is low in calories with beneficial folate, potassium and Vitamin A.
Planting Secrets for Summer Squash
Easy direct-sow Summer Squash is a heat-loving plant that needs full sun, well-draining soil, high fertility and plenty of water. You can start the seeds in pots about a month before planting outdoors, but if you just wait until the soil warms up, you can direct-sow the seeds into the garden and the plants will quickly catch up. Summer Squash will not tolerate frost or cold temperatures, so don't plant them until all danger of frost has passed. You may find your reliable Frost-Free Date by using a chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Go HERE and select your State from the pull down menu. This will generate a PDF file with a list of NOAA data collection sites in your State. In the left column, choose the location nearest or most similar to where you live. Then read across. Use the middle threshold number (32°F) and right next to it, in the Spring column, will be the 50% probability date. This is your all-important average Frost-Free Date.
Most Summer Squash varieties have a compact, bushy habit, but some are as sprawling as Pumpkins, so it's important to follow seed packet spacing directions. Typically, two or three seeds are planted in a group 4" to 5" apart. Groups should be spaced 3 feet apart. Covering newly planted seeds with floating row covers will speed germination, keep young plants cozy, and minimize damage from cucumber beetles, squash bugs and vine borers. Remove the covers as soon as flowers appear.
Easy Tips for Sensational Summer Squash
1. Summer Squash are thirsty plants. To ensure the highest quality fruit, make sure your plants receive plenty of water. In dry climates, drip irrigation is an easy solution. Each plant should drink about 3 gallons of water per week (unless it rains). In very hot weather, it's normal for the leaves to wilt. They'll revive when the sun goes down.
2. It takes a lot of energy to be a Summer Squash. Make sure your plants don't run out of food by adding plenty of compost or rotted manure to the planting area along with a slow-release granular fertilizer. During the growing season, apply a liquid fertilizer once or twice a month.
3. Once your Summer Squash plants begin producing, harvest several times a week. The fruit can be picked when very small~no bigger than a cigar or a golf ball~but is more typically harvested when 4" to 6" long or 3" to 5" in diameter.
4. Mulching around the plants with straw or shredded leaves will smother weeds, reduce moisture loss and keep the developing Squash clean.
5. Summer Squash plants produce both male flowers and female flowers. The males appear first and have a long stem and no "bump" at the base. These can be picked and eaten (sliced into salads, stir fried, battered and deep fried), but always leave a few male flowers behind for the bees or they will not bear fruit.
6. Bush-type Summer Squash grow well in large containers. Use a 5-gallon (or larger) pot for each plant and be prepared to water daily.
7. If you have enough space, sowing a second batch of Summer Squash seeds about a month after the first sowing, will give you an abundant crop of young, tender fruit from August through September. A second planting is also good insurance against losses due to squash vine borers and other pests.
8. Many types of Summer Squash display white patterns on their leaves. This is completely normal, but it can be mistaken for powdery mildew. You'll also notice that some fruit will wrinkle and rot before gaining much size. This is due to lack of pollination. Simply pull them off and others will take their place. If poor pollination is a recurring problem, plant a self-pollinating Summer Squash such as Cavili Zucchini or Partenon Zucchini.
So Many Great Summer Squashes!
There are three types of Summer Squash: Zucchini, Yellow and Pattypan or Scallop. The most popular is Zucchini and we offer many choices. First up is Green Tigress Zucchini. Its slender, medium-green fruit has fine texture and great flavor. The plants are disease resistant and reliable producers even in cool, damp weather. Green Tiger Striped Zucchini is a European hybrid with pale green stripes. The plants are bushy and highly productive. Ronde De Nice Round Zucchini is indeed round, and it can be picked at any point up to softball size. Piccolo is another round variety, but with silvery stripes that make it look like a tiny Watermelon! Bella has smooth, light green skin and a slightly nutty flavor. The flowers are self-pollinating, so the plants can be grown under fabric if pests are a big problem in your area. We offer two yellow Zucchinis: Golden Rod and Sunstripe.
Another fabulous variety from Italy is Milano Black Zucchini. The compact, bushy plants are incredibly productive, pumping out dozens of slender, shiny black fruit that taste as good as they look. They are best picked at 6" to 8" long. Striato d'Italia Zucchini has vertical ridges that give the slices a pretty, scalloped edge. Zucchetta Trombolina Zucchini is a quirky Italian heirloom yielding pale green fruit with incredibly long necks. The vines can scramble to 8' long. The fruit has an unusually firm texture with virtually no seeds.
If you prefer yellow Summer Squash, we offer five choices. Early Crookneck Summer Squash has a smooth and glossy, lemon-yellow exterior and a thick, break-resistant curved neck. Early Prolific Straightneck Summer Squash is a super-productive heirloom with bumpy, deep yellow skin. Lemon Summer Squash is an unusual favorite with a rounded shape, Smooth Criminal grows upright for easy picking and gorgeous Zephyr is two-toned yellow and pale green! Bennings Green-Tint Pattypan Squash is another American heirloom that's been popular since the early 1900s. It looks like a flying saucer with a round, but flattened, shape and scalloped edges. Y-Star is a newer pattypan, yellow with a green circle on top. Both delicious! For a truly unique and unusual Squash, try Cucuzzi Italian Summer Squash. Also known as the Snake Gourd or Longissima, it's a very slender, pale green Squash that can grow up to 18" long, though it's best picked no more than 8" long. Grow it on a tall trellis to keep the fruit straight.
Need Prolific Recipes for Prolific Summer Squash?
Summer Squash can be enjoyed raw in salads or in crudité platters with creamy herb dips. It can be coated with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese and roasted into tasty crisp coins, or cubed and combined with similarly sized cubes of Eggplant, Red Onions, Sweetpotatoes, Fennel and Carrots and roasted with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. It is brilliant quickly sautéed, used in vegetable kebobs, or sliced ½" thick lengthwise and grilled (first slather with Italian salad dressing). Once grilled and pliable, it can be served as is, or can be spread with tangy goat cheese and pesto and rolled up. Grilled Zucchini can also be used instead of pasta in lasagna. It can be used in cold or hot soups and stews, like ratatouille, as well as dipped in batter for tempura extravaganzas. Speaking of tempura, what is better than batter-dipped, fried squash blossoms stuffed with tangy goat cheese? And, if you haven't yet tried them, you must make Rick Bayless' Mexican-Style Zucchini Tacos as well as Candace's Zucchini Bread. We stockpile this sweet treat in the freezer. Evidently, we can't get through a winter without it.
Decades ago, we created Zucchini Boats at harvest's height. Half lengthwise individual fruits and scoop out the seed cavity. Place each boat on a roasting tray and set aside. In a skillet, sauté chopped Onions, red Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, minced Garlic and chopped flat-leaf Parsley. Now you can add almost anything! For an Italian Boat, add torn baby Spinach, finely chopped fresh Basil, chopped meatballs or sausage, pasta sauce, some fresh Italian bread crumbs and cubed mozzarella. Mix with the sautéed veggie base and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff each Zucchini vessel and top with grated fontina cheese. Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes until the Zucchini is fork tender and the stuffing is piping hot. We've made Chickie Boats (to the sautéed veggie base we added diced roasted chicken, cubed herbed stuffing mix, sherry-soaked dried cranberries and chicken broth). We've made Crabby Boats (to the sautéed veggie base we've added lump crab meat, Worcestershire sauce, a bit of mayonnaise, lemon juice, a whisked egg, fresh white bread crumbs and chopped Scallions). We've made Mediterranean Boats (to the sautéed veggie base we added sautéed cubed Eggplant, crumbled feta cheese, lemon juice, chopped Tomatoes, pasta sauce, grated Parmesan cheese and Greek Yogurt). You get the idea. Zucchini Boats are really fun to create.
Our favorite Dutch restaurant is Restaurant De Moerbei where unfettered chef wizardry abounds. One of our new favorite ways to feature Zucchini was their idea. Slice young Zucchini in rounds, brush them with olive oil and sprinkle them lightly with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Roast them on a baking sheet for 10 minutes at 425°F. Turn them over and roast for another 10 minutes. Top them with a variety of tasty vegetable treats like roasted Cauliflower florets, halved heirloom Cherry Tomatoes, caramelized Shallots or piped Carrot purée. Brilliant!