How to Grow Summer Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
If you enjoy eating fresh, in-season summer squash, there's good news: you can easily grow it, too. The best way to have a steady supply of summer squash, or "curcurbita pepo," is to add the vegetables to your home garden. They're easy to grow, especially when started on squash hills. The plants put out profuse amounts of food, and they can be prepared many ways.
Till the soil, using a power tiller with rotary blades. Hoe the soil to spread it out evenly over the garden areas, then prep it by turning it and adding decomposed compost and amendments, including amendments that help the soil drain if you have clay soil. Check to make sure no puddles form in your garden when you water the soil. When planning your garden, leave a large area for the squash group. Each seed that sprouts and grows will take up a 3- to 5-foot circumference when it bushes out.
Make several mounds in the squash area of the garden, using your rake or spade to pile the dirt, hilling up the soil to about 18 inches around and 6 to 8 inches high.
Poke your finger into the soil to create 4 to 7 holes -- one on top of the hill and the remainder on the perimeter. Place 2 or 3 seeds into each hole, about 1 or 2 inches deep. Cover the holes with soil. Pat them down gently. Water in well with a gentle spray.
Keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout, but don't flood them or overwater. When seeds sprout -- about a week or 10 days later -- check the mounds for the strongest plants. Wait until they all have several leaf sections, then thin the hills to the best plants.
Water regularly, paying attention to the heat -- if it's excessive and plants start to wilt, give them a good drink. Blossoms will begin to appear, and within a few weeks you'll be harvesting your first batch. Be warned: these plants grow fast and large, and can produce copious amounts of food.
Fertilize with a little 5-10-10 or some decomposed compost around the plant bases, but don't overdo it. Follow box instructions on the fertilizer, or use a handful or two of compost. The amendments you added during your original soil preparation may be sufficient, so this step may not be necessary. Just keep an eye on the plants -- if they are growing well and putting out squash, they're fine.
Tips & Warnings
All summer squashes can be planted the same way. Decide whether to grow all one kind, or mix it up with several varieties. Use different types of seeds on the same hill, or use one hill per type of squash.
The blossoms on these squash are edible. Mix up a batch of batter and fry some up, or tear into small pieces for salads. Just remember that however many flowers you pick will reduce your harvest by an equal amount, depending on whether the blossoms are male or female (only females produce the vegetable).
Steady high summer temperatures could cause wilting and pollination issues. The earlier in the season you're able to plant, the sooner you can harvest -- before the peak sizzle period begins.