By E. VinjeTweet
Squash, including zucchini, gourds and summer squash, are members of the cucumber (cucurbit) family and require the same planting conditions as pumpkins. Growing squash in the home garden is relatively easy providing you are patient enough to wait for warm weather. Squash will not germinate in cold soils and the plant is easily damaged by frost.
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Squash are annual plants which do best in full sun (may require partial shade in hotter environments) and require ample amounts of water and soil rich in organic matter. Natural fertilizers, such as compost and manures, and other slow-release plant nutrients, are effective when tilled into the soil prior to planting. Do not plant in areas where other cucurbits have been cultivated over the past four years.
Tip: Use black plastic mulch to warm the soil, prevent weeds and increase yields.
How to Plant:
Sow three to four seeds in rows or hills 1-2 inches deep, depending upon their size. Space hills four feet apart. When the plants are 2-3 inches tall, thin to one sturdy plant or no more than two per hill. If growing in colder, short-season climates, start seed indoors three to four weeks prior to planting. Cover seedlings with floating row cover to provide additional warmth and protect them from insects.
Tip: Soil surrounding squash plants should remain moist at all times, however, most squash are susceptible to fungal disease, so drip irrigation is best to avoid wetting the foliage. If overhead watering is unavoidable, water in the early morning so the foliage has time to dry during the day.
Harvest squash when they are small and tender for best quality. All types of summer squash should be harvested when they reach no more than 4-6 inches long and 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches in diameter. Use a sharp knife to cut the fruit, and at least 2-3 inches of the stem, from the vine. Summer squash will reach maturity in 45-50 days; winter varieties will take 85-110 days.
Remove crop debris and roto-till the garden after harvest to prevent future insect and disease problems.
Insects and Diseases:
Various fungus and blights attack squash foliage. Spray infected plants with a dilute solution of copper spray to help control the spread of the disease. Squash leaves are easily burned by insecticidal soap and copper sprays. Use the most dilute concentration recommended. Do not spray plants in direct sun or when temperatures are above 80 degrees F.
Seed Saving Instructions:
Squash will cross-pollinate, so isolate by 1/4 mile. Seeds should be taken from fruits that have gone past maturity by three weeks. Remove seeds, wash and let dry.