Squash overload! Zucchini up to your eye balls! Freezing them, canning them, baking them, giving them away! Yeah, these things didn’t happen in our little garden this year. Our first go with summer squash and zucchini was cut violently and prematurely short. But in gardening, these things do happen. Luckily we were able to learn some about these versatile beauties before our run was up.
Squash historically came from Mesoamerica and existed even before humans were around. It was one of the first crops domesticated in the region (circa 8,000-10,000 years ago), before maize or beans. With the colonization of the Americas came world wide expansion of squash growing and breeding new varieties. Surprisingly though, zucchini were a long way off. The Italians bred different summer squash until the zucchini was created. Then the seeds made their way over here in a major wave of immigration during the last century. In fact, the first US record of zucchini didn’t happen until the 1920s.
While I bought both my summer squash and zucchini seeds at a big box store, these types are available for online purchase as well. Due to the size of the plants, the squash and zucchini each need 2 squares per plant in SFG (square foot gardening). Space hog! However, no one had ever told me that squash and zucchini are prickly plants that will make you itch and sting a bit if you have to go digging around in between them. And guess what? You WILL have to go digging around in them to find the squash and zucchini lurking near the ground. So a bit of extra space really doesn’t hurt here, because otherwise you are getting hurt.
It should be noted that most summer squash and zucchini fall into the genus and species cucurbita pepo. This means that when planted close together, there is a chance they might cross pollinate. Which is absolutely fine for eating; not so good if you were planning on saving some seeds. In fact, it was helpful as these plants are monoecious (remember that word?) and you aren’t always lucky enough to have your male and female flowers open at the same time. Especially when the plant first starts to flower. But quite often, I would see a male zucchini flower and a female squash flower open (or vice versa) and a lovely little pollinating bug going back and forth. It seemed to work out for the most part.
My experience in growing summer squash and zucchini is that they are incredibly easy to grow, but incredibly hard to protect from all the different plagues that can beset them, especially here in the South. Squash borers, bugs and beetles, mildews and wilts. The siege is relentless. So much so that I can’t even begin to tell you how many Southerner have just told me “I’ve given up trying to grow them”. I’ve got a few ideas that I plan on trying next year in hopes of getting a more squash out of the deal.
If I continue to have massive summer squash and zucchini failure in the future, I have heard that the tromboncino squash (which is a cucurbita moschata type) doesn’t suffer from the same plagues as the C. pepo types of squash and zucchini. The other interesting thing about the tromboncino squash is that when small (being under 10-12 inches) you can use it like you would a fresh squash or zucchini. But you can also let it fully mature into a giant winter squash that is similar to a butternut (though possibly more watery).
I found that harvesting went best when I had on gloves and a pair of pruning shears in hand. Just snip the squash leaving 1/2 – 1 inch of the stem attached. Now I stored them, unwashed, in the crisper drawer of my refrigerator. To be honest, it didn’t go well. I’ve heard they should have been in plastic or left on the counter. Not actually sure what would have been best given that I hardly got a harvest from these plants at all. I guess that exploration will have to be for next year when I will hopefully have better luck growing summer squash and zucchini. Cross your fingers for me! Or better yet, share your tips with me!