Summer squash includes a variety of different squash like yellow squash, pattypan squash and probably the most well known and popular zucchini. Unlike winter squash that can be stored for longer periods of time and used throughout the colder months of winter, summer squash does not store well and needs to be ate or processed right away to avoid spoilage. Once mature summer squash will produce an abundance of fruit that grows very quickly. It grows so fast that in a matter of days the fruit can become very large and mealy in texture. When this happens, you can easily make things like zucchini chips or shred it and portion out into 1 cup serving size measurements to freeze for winter baking. Did you know that summer squash are technically considered fruits, though we treat them like vegetables?
Summer squash are frost tender annual plants that can grow from throughout spring until your first frost. Squashes have been around for more than 10,000 years, originating in Mexico and American tropics. The plants get quite large, with about 30 inches in height for a bush variety or taller with a vining variety. When it comes to square foot gardening or intensive planting, you will want to give these some room. Sow 2-3 seeds in a small mound, thinning to the healthiest single plant with 1 plant per 9 square feet for bush varieties and 1 per every 2 square feet for vining varieties. Make sure you have a tall trellis in place for vining squash varieties to climb up when you sow seeds. This ensures that their roots will not be disturbed if you were try to add a trellis when they are bigger, their roots are very sensitive. Squash are best directly sown because they really do not like their roots disturbed. If you do choose to sow seeds indoors, sow them in a paper pot, soil block to do the least disturbance of the roots. Direct sow seeds ½ – 1 inch deep about two weeks after last frost and when day and night temperatures are 50ºF. They take approximately 8 weeks from seed to flowering. Squash are considered heavy feeders, make sure you add plants of compost to your garden beds before sowing seeds, this also works as a mulch to retain moisture. Harvest the squash when they are young, just after their flower wilts for best flavor and texture. I grow my squash in another part of my garden, instead of the raised beds because of how much space they take up. You can definitely have them in your raised beds if you have the space they need. I prefer to use the space for other things, plus I have another garden area for things like these.
*Avoid overhead watering to help stave off powdery mildew.
Summer squash compared to winter squash has a much more neutral flavor and pairs well with the robust herbs, fruits(tomatoes) and vegetables that are also in season. I love to cook summer squash with tomatoes, basils, garlic and kale then toss in olive oil and any other fresh herbs. You can pair this with pretty much any protein you want. Some flavor parings that work well with summer squash are garlic, bell peppers, oregano, parsley, rice, pine nuts, mint, lemon, onions, arugula, chiles, dill, olive oil, just to name a few. As mentioned before, their neutral flavor really makes them a great addition to many dishes. You can eat them raw, grilled, stewed, in soups, stir fried, grated, baked, etc. You can even eat the young tender leaves, though I have not tried them yet. Squash really are a staple in a seasonal summer kitchen. They are great when thinly sliced and dehydrated. A favorite way I like to have them is tossed in a splash of olive oil, Himalayan salt, garlic granules dehydrated for about 6 hours at 115ºF. *When dehydrating, your timing will vary based on the humidity in your area. Additional meal ideas for using up summer squash include bread, spiralized or cut into ribbons like noodles, in salads, breaded and gently fried, etc. Zucchini lasagna is a great dish to make too, just slice your zucchini lengthwise in thin strips and use like lasagna noodles. Pretty much every cooking method works for summer squash.
Considering the high water content of summer squash you might be surprised to know that it has a great nutritional profile. It is a great source for antioxidants like: carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. Leaving the skin on helps keep a lot of the antioxidant compounds in your food. *Make sure you are either growing your own or buying from a trusted source who uses organic practices, otherwise you can peel the skin to help you avoid pesticides. Summer squash are considered an excellent source of both copper and manganese. They are also considered a very good source of nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K to name just a few. They are even considered a good source for iron and calcium. They have a higher concentration level of oxalates than some other vegetables, which is something to take note of if you are avoiding or watching your consumption of oxalates. I suggest cooking them rather than eating them raw if this is a worry for you. Over all their nutritional content is a lot higher than you might think, especially when you leave the skin on.
Summer squash is a must have in the garden if you are looking for an abundant harvest of larger fruits. If you have a small growing area look for bush varieties that can do well in containers. Try them using pretty much any cooking method and see which is your favorite. I love sautéing, grilling or dehydrating them. Aim to harvest when they are optimal size for the best flavor and texture. (Just after the flower wilts) If they grow too big their texture and flavor will be off, but you can still use them shredded in baking or dehydrated as chips or even in soups and stews. However you enjoy your summer squash, know that you are eating a nutrient rich food that tastes great and is also great for you.
If you have any questions about summer squash add them to the comments, I would be happy to help! If you are interested in 1:1 coaching, you can find information here.