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The pros and cons of different types of squash and how to grow it effectively

In the Garden

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Blue hubbard squash | Lance Ellis, EastIdahoNews.com

If your garden was a YMCA Rec. center, then right now we are swimming in zucchini and drowning in summer squash.

Zucchini and other types of squash have tons of redeeming qualities including ease of growth, a wide variety of tastes and textures and versatility. People will hide squash in all sorts of things from spaghetti sauce to bread to stir fry. Here are the basics about these commonly taken for granted garden vegetables.

There are two kinds of squash we can easily grow with success in eastern Idaho. Summer squash is known for its prolific production in a short time span, but its drawback is a short shelf life after harvest.

Winter squash is the other and is known for its holding capacity in storage through the fall and winter. Summer and winter squash love lots of sunshine and are moderate feeders of the three major nutrients. Mixing in 2 to 3 inches of a composted organic material in the fall should provide all of the necessary nutrients for the squash crop to be planted next spring. Excess nitrogen in the soil can reduce yield, as the plants will focus more on growth rather than fruit production.

Summer squash benefits from a continuous harvest, so rather than allowing the first fruits to become oversized and over-mature, keep removing the squash as they get up to size. This will promote continued flowering and fruiting of the plant.

There are two kinds of yellow summer squash — crookneck and straight neck. The crookneck should be harvested when it’s about five inches long because it will develop a thicker skin if it gets larger than that.

A straight neck will not develop a hard undesirable skin as quickly and that’s why it’s more popular. Desirable varieties of yellow squash include Early Prolific Straightneck, Multipik, Supersett and Sunray.

Winter squash is one of the best garden crops to grow when planning a winter food storage program. Some winter squash have a long holding capacity, while others are somewhat shorter. An example of a shorter shelf life squash would be Acorn. Butternut squash has a mid-range holding capacity and banana squash has a larger holding capacity.

The most important aspect of growing winter squash in our area, aside from consistent moisture and sufficient nutrients, is to giving them plenty of space to grow. I have seen Blue Hubbard squash send out vines over 20 feet long. To help utilize space efficiently, plant them along the edges of your garden or direct their vines to grow into areas not being used by other plants in your garden.

Squash respond well to warm soil. An easy way to get this is to lay down a layer of black plastic and then cut a hole for each plant to grow in. This not only maintains soil warmth but also reduces weeds and holds onto soil moisture.

Lance Ellis | EastIdahoNews.com

Later in the summer, once the winter squash has started to flower, make sure the fruit is not sitting in a pool of standing water on top of the plastic. That can induce rots, infections, and storage issues later on.

If you transplant squash plants into your garden, make sure not to disturb their sensitive roots. This will set the plants back weeks or even months while they recover from the damage. Harvesting and storing winter squash needs to be done correctly to ensure the best shelf life and flavor possible.

To help determine if the squash is ripe, verify that the stems are beginning to shrivel and die. You can also do the thumbnail test, meaning that the skin is so hard you can’t cut it with your thumbnail.

You need to cure your winter squash prior to storage. Some people believe that the squash must have a light frost to be completely cured, but this is not true, and can actually damage your squash and reduce the shelf life. It is best to let the squash have about 10 sunny, dry, warm days outside to cure their skins. If it is going to frost during the nights of those 10 days, cover them with thick blankets or move them inside, depending on the severity of the frost. Store the cured squash at 50 degrees in a moderately dry environment.

For further questions on growing squash, contact Lance at (208) 624-3102.

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