Surefire Summer Squash

Expert advice on growing summer squash, plus a secret to great flavor revealed!

| June/July 2007

It’s a rare gardener whose planting plan does not include summer squash, be they zucchini, yellow squash or scalloped pattypan types.

Many questions arise when considering your own squash patch: How much should you grow? Should you start with seedlings or plant the seeds directly in the garden? What can you do to keep insects at bay? Assuming you have a good year, what kinds of kitchen wizardry will you use to avoid squash burnout?

At first glance these questions may seem to have separate answers, but in fact they are closely related. For example, if you use double-duty growing techniques that deter insect pests and make the most of summer squash’s natural exuberance, you’ll need just four or five healthy plants to keep summer squash on your daily menu for more than a month — and stock up your freezer too. The key word here is “healthy,” but growing robust plants is easy … if you think like a squash.

Small Plantings, Big Harvests

Step one is to choose the best varieties for your garden, keeping in mind that all summer squash are flavor lightweights until they’re enhanced with seasonings. Or try a secret I only recently discovered — grill squash to greatly intensify its subtle flavors. Grilling sweats out water and caramelizes the sugars — try it, you’ll be amazed!

Summer squash varieties make up for frail flavor with their abundant yields, vibrant colors, great nutritional value and variable shapes. Young specimens of colorful yellow and green ‘Zephyr’ or ‘Sunburst’ squash are almost too beautiful to eat, while dark-skinned zucchini varieties, such as ‘Raven,’ have a high quota of lutein (an antioxidant that can prevent vision loss associated with aging). Squash is also a good source of fiber and potassium, as well as vitamins A and C. To save space in a small garden, try training a vining variety, such as ‘Costata Romanesca’ or ‘Tatume,’ up a sturdy trellis or fence. If you don’t have room to grow your own squash, buy your favorite varieties from farmers markets or roadside vegetable stands, and jump to “Summer Squash Recipe Roundup,” below.

Don’t worry if you end up buying several packets of seeds to get the diversity you want in a small planting, because summer squash seeds will remain viable for three to four years (or more) when stored under good conditions. Another option is to start with a mixture of varieties, such as the ‘Summer Squash Mix’ from The Cook’s Garden, or ‘Summer Scallop Trio’ and ‘Tricolor Mix’ zucchini from Renee’s Garden. If you’re worried about pollination problems in a small planting of different varieties, just think like a squash. Yellow squash or zucchini might tell you, “No worries, pollen from a pattypan is just fine with us!” Unless you plan to save seeds, it’s fine to mix them up.

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