Agatha Christie has her fictional detective, Hercule Poirot, raise summer squash as a retirement hobby. He is convinced they'd be great if only the taste could be improved.
In that quest, I try different selections each year. I have come across two taste-test winners. "Sunburst" yielded a small harvest of delightful yellow pattypan squash. Folks actually asked if we'd any to share! "Cavili", a pale green zucchini, had a very prolonged bountiful harvest of the best-tasting squash I've ever eaten.
The bounty of the squash crop makes it an economical choice for the kitchen garden. It thrives in full sun, warm temperatures and well-drained soil. A heavy feeder, it benefits from the addition of compost or well-rotted manure to the soil and ought to be fertilized one week after blossoming begins and again three weeks later. Traditionally it is planted in "hills" but grows equally well in rows, a more efficient use of garden space.
Squash do not tolerate transplantation well. Once the soil has warmed, plant seeds about one inch deep either two or three per hill or 18 inches apart in a row. If squash vine borers have been a problem, make small plantings 7 to 10 days apart. Squash seed can be sown directly through May and June.
When planning your garden, keep in mind your appetite for the various vegetables! A 10-foot row of squash can yield up to 80 pounds. Planning on 10 to 25 pounds per person, many families may find that two or three plants are sufficient.
The fruit are generally ready to harvest two to four days after pollination. Inspect plants daily in order to harvest while fruit while small (6 to 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter for zucchini). If the rind cannot be marked by a thumbnail, it is too old to eat. The harvest is primarily eaten fresh. Grated zucchini freezes well for later use in baking.
These vegetables are relatively problem free. The plants need regular watering to avoid "blossom end rot," which can also be caused by a calcium deficiency. Under humid conditions, they are prone to mildew and "wilt," a bacterial disease.
Flower drop can lead to reduced yields. The plants produce both male and female flowers, requiring insect pollination. If both types of flowers are not present or there are no insects, the unpollinated female blossoms cannot develop fruit and fall off the plants. If insecticides are used in the area, apply after blossoms have closed for the day.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets lack of familiarity with a plant stop her from trying it in the raised beds around her home.