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Blackwelder: Summer squash is an easy vegetable

Summer squash is one of the easiest vegetables to grow, so it’s the perfect vegetable for beginning gardeners. This is a vegetable that easily adapts to both conventional and raised bed and planters.
Container gardeners should try a bush variety using a very large container, at least a 10-gallon container (about the size of a large garbage can). Fill the container with a blend of good top soil, compost and potting soil.
Below are a few tips for those interested in growing summer squash.
Planting: Make sure your garden site or container gets full sun. The soil should be moderately fertile and well-drained with a pH of 5.8 to 6.8. It’s best to plant these transplants in the spring and direct seed in the fall. A late spring and fall crop can be planted since both zucchini and yellow summer squash mature in about 50 days. Late summer and fall plantings can be direct seeded in early August.
How much do I plant? A common mistake for beginner gardeners is to plant too much squash. Summer squash are very productive and don’t store very well, so six plants will easily produce enough for a family of four.
Bees are important. Squash and other cucurbit crops need them as pollinators. Lack of bees can limit fruit from these plants. Avoid spraying insecticides, especially Sevin, around plants during the day.
Irrigation is essential. It really depends on the soil and if the plants are in containers or raised beds, but most do best with an inch of water each week.
Squash need fertilizer. Avoid fertilizers that are high in nitrogen; this encourages lush foliage with no fruits set. Granular fertilizers low in nitrogen such as 5-10-10 every two-three weeks works well.
Depending on the variety, pick squash as soon as they’re large enough to be used, usually when they are about 6 inches. Harvest scallop or pattypan varieties when they’re about 4 inches in diameter, before they turn cream-colored. The skin of summer squash is very tender and easily scarred during harvest. Commercial producers often use gloves to avoid scarring.
Since squash grows so rapidly, it is important to check over the plants every one or two days, especially in hot weather. Fruit is often ready to harvest within four to eight days after flowering.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. For archived garden columns or other information, visit the Rowan County Master Gardener Web site at www.rowanmastergardener. com, e-mail Darrell_Blackwelder@ncsu.edu. Call 704-216-8970.

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