Winter Squashes harvest season is more in line with that of pumpkins, which is actually a type of squash - early Autumn. In colder regions the growing season is not always long enough to successfully grow winter squash from seed, hence they must be started indoors and transplanted out after the final anticipated frost date. Winter squash does not taste very good if harvested when unripe, summer squash can generally be harvested when immature without much loss of flavor.
There are over 600 varieties of Winter Squash but they can be categorized by their uses into 3 Fall squash - which is eaten in the Autumn shortly after harvest, such as most acorn and spaghetti squash. Those with a longer storage life that cane eaten over the winter such as banana and buttercup. Those that will keep well over the winter into early spring of which there are not very many. My personal favorite of long storage varieties is Long Island Cheese squash, some varieties of acorn squash can also be stored through the winter also.
Summer squash takes roughly half the time that winter squash does to mature, 55 - 80 days depending on the variety and growing conditions.
Summer Squash, once plucked from the vine, must be used or prepared ASAP. It is commonly prepared by steaming, boiling, sautéing, frying or incorporated into soups and breads, it can also be frozen.
There are a multitude of Summer Squashes to choose from, various shapes and colors. Bush varieties take up less space as opposed to vining varieties that either sprawl or must be trellised. When properly maintained summer squash can be prolifically productive right up till the first frost. Zucchini - both green and yellow types, Cousa Squash - which is actually a type of zucchini, Pattypan Squash, scallop squash, crook neck squash are all summer squash.
Soil - Well drained
Spacing varies dependent on variety but as a rule of thumb 2 - 5 feet is generally sufficient.
Mulch lightly - squash foliage actually creates a sort of living mulch with its broad and imposing leaves, which hampers the encroachment of weeds and helps keep he soil shaded and moist.
Squash produces male and female flowers. Male flowers are the first to appear followed a week or two later by the females. The female flowers have a small embryonic squash just below the blossoms. After the pollinating period male flowers generally drop from the plant while the females go on to become Squash.
Keep the ground evenly moist and water deeply during dry spells. To prevent mildew, water plants near the base, avoid over watering the foliage, as this will minimize the occurrence of opportunistic fungal infestations. Drip irrigation can minimize the amount of foliage and fruit disease compared with overhead irrigation . Inexpensive Drip Systems and Water Timers are readily available.
The first fertilizer application, while the plant is still immature should be high phosphorous for root growth. Excessive phosphorus for too long can lead to premature flowering, a weaker plant later and a smaller harvest, so after cut back on the phosphorous after the first application.
The second fertilizer application should be applied once the plants are solidly rooted and the initial stages of robust foliage growth is observed - generally about a month into the growth cycle. It should consist of balanced formula that is higher in nitrogen than phosphorous. Nitrogen is represented by the first number on a fertilizer label [NPK]. Too much nitrogen can delay the emergence and reduce the amount of flowers and fruit.
Subsequent fertilizer applications, especially prior to fruit setting should have a higher potassium formulation for development of the set fruit. Potassium is represented by the third number on a fertilizer label.
Squash Bugs can be found clustered beneath damaged leaves, or in any protective ground cover. They feed by sucking sap from the leaves and stems while injecting a toxic substance into the plant causing a wilting known as Anasa wilt of cucurbits. If your plants are heavily infested, insecticidal soap or Neem is the best defense.
Squash vine borers will bore into plant stems and leave behind a trail of residue reminiscent of moist sawdust. They are more damaging to winter squash. They are a white caterpillar that tunnels into stems and can go undetected until a vine starts to die. Keep a look out for entry marks near the base of plants. Bacillius thuringiensis is effective against this pest. The adult is a wasp like orange-black moth which lays its eggs at the base of the stem in early summer.
The squash bug is frequently misidentified as a stinkbug . Their appearance is similar and both emit a distinct foul "stink" either when crushed, or congregating in large numbers.
Cucumber Beetles, as the name implies prefer cucumbers [and melons] but when unavailable they will also chow down on squash, a close relative of cucumber.
Diseases of Squash
Also See Trouble Shooting Pumpkins and Squash
Anthracnose, a soilborne fungus, causes leaves to develop water-soaked spots that eventually enlarge and brown.
Bacterial wilt causes plants to suddenly wilt ; infected plants usually die very rapidly.
Downy mildew produces yellow-brown spots on leaf surfaces and purple spots on their undersides. These spots eventually spread, and the leaves die off.
Mosaic, a viral disease that results in rough, mottled leaves, stunted growth, and pale fruit, spread by cucumber beetles and aphids. Reduce the chance of disease by controlling problem insects.
Powdery mildew causes white fungal spots on leaves. Affected leaves are distorted, and the plant will be stunted. Immediately remove and destroy affected plants - destroy or get rid of them - do not place in the compost heap.
Companion Planting is a system of planting various plants in proximity to each other in a fashion that will compliment each others growth and health, as well as avoiding planting in proximity to plants that do not get along well together. Pumpkin grows well with corn, melon and squash.
Corn when companion-planted with squash or pumpkin is said to disorient certain insects pests and protect the vining crop . In reciprocation, pumpkins prickly vines are said to discourage raccoons and some rodent pests from chowing down on the sweet corn.
Avoid planting in proximity to, or in the same plot that Potatoes have recently grown - recent being the last several seasons.
If feasible, don't plant squash, cucumbers or pumpkin on the same plot more often than once in a three year cycle.