Written by Alicia R
If vegetables could speak, members of the humble squash family might advise other edibles that summer is no time to put down roots if you can’t take the heat in the garden.
Planting vegetables during the summer requires choosing types that grow well when temperatures rise and tolerate the limited moisture of Southern California’s dry season. Those are conditions that squash — both summer and winter varieties — handle well.
Whether you’re interested in growing one, two or many kinds, Green Thumb Nursery has plenty looking for good homes. We also have some delicious ideas for preparing these ancient foods as well as tips for their cultivation during hot weather.
New World Plants
Squash are native to North, Central, and South America as well as the Caribbean and Hawaii. They reached Europe following Columbus’ exploration of the New World in the late 15th century. According to the Library of Congress Everyday Mysteries website, presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew squash in their gardens.
The website also notes that the word squash comes from New England’s Narragansett tribe of Native Americans. They called these edible gourds akutasquash to indicate the plants could be eaten raw.
As is often the case, what’s old is new. Raw food enthusiasts today particularly enjoy eating sweet kinds of squash uncooked in salads. Grated butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) — a winter type — is the star in this New York Times recipe including cranberries and orange juice.
Types and Preparation of Squash
Summer squash are kinds harvested when their outer skin is tender and easily edible. It’s best to eat them within a week after picking. Otherwise, they may shrivel or go limp and mold when stored too long. In contrast, most winter varieties have tough rinds that make their storage easy long beyond the growing season.
Here are some examples of both groups of squash:
Zucchini. Perhaps the most familiar summer squash is the cylindrically shaped zucchini (Cucurbita pepo), which is sometimes referred to as a courgette or marrow. Depending on variety, its smooth skin comes in many shades of green from light to dark as well as striped and sunny gold.
Tiny chunks of raw zucchini add subtle sweetness and crunch to salads. But leave one in the garden overlong, and gad zukes! It grows into a baseball bat with tough skin. Fortunately, it’s easy to grate the flesh (not the skin or seeds) of overgrown zucchini into moist, spicy bread. You can also make mock spaghetti noodles by peeling and seeding the vegetable and extruding long spiral strands with a food processor.
Calabacitas. Spanish for “tiny squash,” calabacitas are cute zucchinis that are either little cylinders or globes. They are another type of C. pepo. Texas Monthly suggests cooking them in a creamy sauce containing onions and Anaheim chilis. Don’t confuse the name of these bitty squash with calabaza (a type of C. moschata), which is a winter squash and kind of pumpkin.
Crookneck Squash. Unlike golden zucchini, yellow crookneck squash are curved at the stem end or “neck” and have bulbous bottoms. Their skin may be smooth or bumpy like a gourd. Diced and sautéed, they add a camouflaged surprise to scrambled eggs.
Pattypan. Looking like flattened disks with scalloped edges, patty pan add visual appeal to dinner with their shapes and colors that include solids and combinations of green and yellow. Large varieties can be stuffed with meat or vegetarian mixtures. Tiny hybrids like Peter Pan can be roasted whole with a drizzle of olive oil and herbs.
Acorn. The species C. pepo doesn’t just encompass summer squash. It also includes the dark green, heavily lobed acorn squash, which has sweet, bright orange flesh and is shaped like an acorn. This is one of the most popular kinds of squash to stuff. Here’s a New York Times recipe that fills the squassh with beans, corn, and tomatoes.
If you have an abundance of acorn squash, they’re a good substitute for pumpkin in breads and pumpkin pie.
Hubbard. The super-tough rinds of Hubbard squash (C. maxima) ensure crop success by making it difficult for critters to gnaw on them. Yet it also means that they are difficult to cut with a knife. Some people split them with hatchets. in a Kitchn website tutorial about how to cut and peel thick-skinned squash, cookbook author Amanda Paa suggests baking it briefly to soften the rind. Afterward, she warns, handle it with oven mitts.
Hubbard squash generally don’t come to mind when thinking about pumpkins. Yet most giant pumpkins grown in competitions actually are Hubbard descendants.
Pumpkin. The kind of bright orange, smooth-skinned pumpkins with which we are most familiar are C. pepo varieties. But as Hubbard and calabaza squash demonstrate, pumpkin species vary. Also, the best kinds for pumpkin pie aren’t the large jack-o-lantern types, which tend to have stringy flesh. Instead, they are “sugar pumpkin” varieties that are smaller and have sweeter flesh and thinner skin.
Tips and Supplies for Summer Planting
Even a tough customer like a zucchini or pumpkin vine can use a bit of extra help when planted in summer. Here are some key practices to remember:
- Keep soil moist by mulching. A few inches of bark chip, wood chip, pine needles, or leaf mulch bagged in autumn are all good organic choices for feeding the soil as well as conserving water.
- Vegetables are thirsty, so water regularly yet deeply. Also, water in the early morning or evening to avoid condensation loss at hotter times of day.
- Remove competition for water by weeding regularly.
- Don’t overstimulate plant growth by fertilizing during hot weather. Plant roots won’t be able to support the foliage.
One last tip: In addition to squash and other heat-loving vegetable plants, you’ll find lots of mulch at Green Thumb Nursery Centers as well as hoes and other weeding tools. Need to ask some questions? Drop by one of our locations today or contact us online. We’re ready to help you grow a delicious vegetable garden.
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