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Garden Journal

Summer squash makes a good one-man band

By Paul Barbano | Jul 25, 2012
Not only do summer squash do well in hot summer weather, they crave it. Sow seeds directly outdoors in 12-inch-diameter hills after danger of frost has passed.

In the Middle Ages, long before modern multitasking, street musicians played a flute and tambourine at the same time.  This evolved into elaborate combinations of drums, cymbals, and harmonicas and the one-man band was born.

The garden often gives us plants that provide fruits, flowers and greens in their own one-man band.  When the potato was first introduced to Europe, English cooks demonstrated an early knack for destroying flavor when they threw out the potato tubers and boiled the poisonous leaves and stems. Whether anyone died or not is not recorded.

Italians had a better experience with New World foods and quickly adopted summer squash (Cucurbita pepo) and they too boiled the leaves.  While potato leaves quickly faded from the menu, summer squash leaves became a nutritious addition to the Italian summer menu.  Try frying squash tendrils quickly until they turn bright green. Serve them hot with butter and Parmesan cheese.  Slice the stalks of squash leaves and cook them the way you cook beans.  Young, tender shoots of the squashes make a delicious vegetable.

Peel off the hairy skin of the squash stems, and boil in either water or coconut milk for 20 minutes.  Serve with butter or a nice wine sauce.

Whether you grow cousa, pattypan, yellow crookneck, or zucchini, all summer squash are really just squashes that are harvested before they mature and get tough.  A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to cut the skin with a fingernail, meaning the rind is still tender.

All summer squash are members of the species Cucurbita pepo. Not only do summer squash do well in hot summer weather, they crave it.  Sow seeds directly outdoors in 12-inch-diameter hills after danger of frost has passed. Hills are simply raised mounds.  The hills should be about six feet apart in all directions.

For easier watering, sink a flowerpot in the ground near each hill.  When you fill the pot with water, it slowly drains out the holes in the bottom of the pot and waters the squash roots.

Summer squash prefer a soil of 5.5 to 6.8 pH. At planting time, work in lots of compost or aged manure. During the growing season, you can feed them with a side dressing of organic fertilizer or more aged manure.  They also benefit from kelp and fish emulsion.

The long hours of daylight and warm temperatures combine to cause growth spurts. You may see your zucchini foliage grow an inch or more each day. Because summer squash will produce fruits in under 50 days from planting, they make ideal vegetables to plant in the midsummer garden.

To keep both the fruits and the leaves clean you may want to mulch with grass clippings, straw or other materials.

While gardeners bemoan the abundance of summer squash fruits, you can now use the other parts of the squash plants for stews, soups and even pickles.  Your summer squash will be a good one-man band.  No bass drum or cymbals required.

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