Squash: Planting, Pests, Pollinating, Productivity & Pasta Substitutions

If you are looking for a fast growing, low maintenance group of vegetables that has applications across multiple cuisines and seasons, then you’re in luck. Let’s talk about squash.

Squash is typically divided into two categories; summer and winter. Summer squashes include yellow squash, zucchini, pan patty squash, etc. and are best eaten fresh. I personally have attempted several methods for preserving summer squash with zero success. It all ends in mush. Winter squash, on the other hand, will keep for several months if stored properly. These varieties include acorn squash, butternut squash, hubbard squash, etc. While winter squash varieties are generally more rich in vitamin A, both groups are excellent sources of vitamins C and B-6 and contribute to your daily doses of iron, magnesium, calcium, protein and dietary fiber. What I’m trying to say is, if you’re not growing squash then you definitely should be.

Planting. Squash grows best in a full sun environment with well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. If you live in an area that sees ample rainfall, you will want to hill your squash at the time of planting. If you are unfamiliar with hilling, the basic concept is this — create a small mound of dirt with a flat top that sits 4-6 inches above the rest of your soil. This is where you will sow your seeds. It simply lets excess water flow away from the base of your plants. You can make hills that are roughly 18 inches in diameter and plant 2-4 seeds per hill or you can make one long hill (this is typically my approach) and plant a row of seeds that are 8-10 inches apart. Either way, make sure to give your seeds plenty of space because the mature plants will have a 2-3 foot spread. I plant my seeds about 1 inch deep and give them a drink. From this point forward squash require little to no care beyond weeding, watering and pest relief.

Sunburst Hybrid pan patty squash seedling.

Pests. Speaking of pest relief…squash leaves are big, broad and the perfect host for fungi like the dreaded powdery mildew. (image below) This is something that you can combat by putting a teaspoon of baking soda and a drop of dish detergent in a gallon (~2L) of water and spraying down your leaves. Additionally, they have BIG flowers that attract insects like cucumber beetles. They eat everything. The leaves, the flowers and the developing fruits. [insert unhappy sigh] I have included a photo below of one that I found on my plants last week to help you with future identification efforts. Another pest is the squash beetle, which will also feed on your plants precious veggies. Both of these insects transmit bacteria that can decimate your plants. I advise you get rid of these guys by applying Neem oil, which is usually supplied as a concentrate that can be diluted in your watering can. Just make sure you find a brand that does not include other chemical pesticides and you’ll be good to go with an organic pest deterrent. The last pest I feel is worth mentioning is the vine borer. These bugs lay eggs that produce a grub-like larvae that dwells inside the branches and vines and they eat your plant from the inside out. Two natural ways to prevent this, other than manual removal of the pests and their eggs, are to spread black pepper and/or diatomaceous  earth (a powder made of fossilized remains of diatoms) around the base of your vines and stems.

Whites spots that indicate the beginnings of powdery mildew.
Cucumber beetle scoping out prime real estate.
Mature vine borer on a struggling squash leaf.

Pollination & Productivity. Most varieties produce around 15 squash per plant. Delicious summer vegetables can be picked at any time but are typically most tender when harvested small. As they get larger they tend to toughen and become quite seedy. Winter varieties sometimes undergo a color change. For example, acorn squash turn a darker shade of green when ripe and the stem starts to wither and brown. In order to produce mature vegetables the baby squash must be pollinated. Time for an anatomy lesson. (photos below) Squash have two different sets of flowers, male and female. The female flowers can be identified as the flowers with tiny little squash attached to them. The male flowers have long stems but no fruiting body. Pollen must be transferred from a male flower to a female flower otherwise the unfertilized fruit will be aborted and fall off. If you find that all your baby squash are dying and falling off the plant, you can facilitate this process manually. Pull the part of a male flower that is covered in pollen (the stamen) off and rub it on the corresponding part (the pistil) inside the female flower. Voila! Now you’re making babies.

Female flower with fruiting body attached.
Male flower with long stem but no immature squash.
Bumblebee collecting pollen from a male flower.

Once you’ve harvested your squash the storage guidelines are as follows:

Summer squash – refrigerator drawer, unwashed in a breathable bag. If you’ve partially used the squash, tightly wrap the cut edge in plastic wrap or your favorite sustainable alternative and put it back in the breathable bag in your refrigerator drawer. Do not rinse until you’re ready to use them, the extra moisture promotes mold growth during storage.

Winter squash – cool dark place, washed and dry, loose. Most winter varieties will keep for at least one month with some lasting as long as 6 months in appropriate conditions.

Freshly harvested pan patty squash.

Pasta supplements and other recipes. Squash is incredibly versatile and it maintains its texture if cooked properly so it’s really no surprise that this vegetable is considered a quality, low carb option for classic Italian dishes like spaghetti (spaghetti squash) and lasagna (zucchini sliced lengthwise). Additionally, many are easily stuffed and baked to provide both meat and vegetarian options. I have included a few links below for inspiration.

12 Patty Pan Squash Recipes You Need to Make for Dinner
100 Things to Do With Winter Squash
111 Ways to Use Zucchini and Yellow Squash

Squash are a great introductory vegetable for novice gardeners. They’re low maintenance and typically a reliable producer. Germination rates are usually high and they are quick to mature so they provide some instant gratification for the impatient at heart. I strongly encourage you to give them a try and if you have any more questions please don’t hesitate to reach out. Cheers, friends!

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