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Some Tips for Growing Squash

August 15, 1991|ROSALIND CREASY

All squash, summer or winter, grow only in warm weather and cannot survive even the mildest frost. In short-summer areas, seeds are started indoors; in long-summer areas, they are planted directly in the garden.

Squash are usually grown in a hill--a small mound of soil with added compost and manure. They can also be planted in rows with two or three feet between plants, or a plant or two can be tucked into a flower border, or a single plant can be grown in a very large container.

After planting the seeds, water thoroughly. Seeds usually sprout within seven to 10 days. Squash needs ample water during the growing season and benefits from monthly applications of a fertilizer such as fish emulsion. Most varieties will produce fruit in less than two months.

Squash are sometimes bothered by cucumber and squash beetles, which you can control by hand-picking the beetles or dusting with rotenone, an organic pesticide. On the East Coast and in the Midwest, squash vine borers can also be a problem. These worms hatch in the soil around the base of the plant and eat their way up the inside of the vine, causing it to wilt. It is usually possible to stab the worm with a straightened paper clip pushed up the worm's entrance hole, but with a heavy infestation you will have to resort to rotenone applications.

Squash plants produce female flowers, identified by the miniature squash at the base of the flowers, and male flowers that emerge straight from the stem. A squash's first blossoms are usually male, and since they produce no fruit, savvy gardeners harvest them to use chopped in soups or in omelets. When both male and female flowers are present, bees pollinate the blossoms and your harvest is off and running.

Squash blossoms close by mid-day and do not reopen. If you want them to stay open for an hors d'oeuvre tray or for stuffing them, harvest fully open blossoms early in the morning, place the stems in cold water and store in the refrigerator. Use them the same day they are harvested. When the season is under full steam, harvest female as well as male flowers for a feast of stuffed squash blossoms.

Whether squash are young or mature, it is important to keep the excess harvested. Many zucchini varieties can produce two or three fruits a day. The yellow zucchini and pattypans are not so ambitious and will produce fewer fruits (some people consider this their greatest virtue), the yellow crooknecks being the least productive. In all cases, allowing large fruits to develop will drastically slow production.

The plants listed below are all bush types, growing about three feet across with handsome leaves and bright-yellow flowers:

Aristocrat--a classic dark-green zucchini, widely adapted and very productive.

Arlesa--a French green zucchini with a nutty taste; it is superior harvested as babies or when very mature.

Cocozelle--also known as Italian Marrow, versatile light green-and-white striped fruit that can be harvested when larger than most zucchini.

Gold Rush--a bright-yellow zucchini that ripens early and is delightful either as baby or mature squash.

Gourmet Globe--an apple-shaped zucchini with green and white-striped fruit, which works well for baby squash and stuffing.

Sunburst--a prolific round, yellow scalloped squash. Good for baby squash.

Supersett--a particularly choice variety of crookneck squash with a nutty flavor and creamy texture. More productive than most crooknecks.

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