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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Summer Squash

Squash is a gourd fruit belonging to the genus Cucurbita.  Other edible members of this family include cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and gourds.  The earliest cucurbits – probably originating in Mesoamerica – were considerably smaller.  Cultivation dates back 9,000 years, judging by scattered remains of seeds and stems found in prehistoric caves in Mexico.  The Zuni of the Southwest traditionally ate squash blossoms in soups.  Flowers of the crookneck squash and zucchini are both edible and flavorful. 

Summer squash differs from winter squash because it is harvested before the rind hardens and the fruit matures.  It grows on bush type plants that do not spread like the plants of winter squash and pumpkin.

Squash bugs are possibly the most aggravating insect pest in vegetable gardens.  They feed on plant foliage using specialized mouthparts to pierce the foliage and suck plant sap.  Large numbers cause plants to wilt and sometimes die.  The eggs are small, reddish-brown ovals laid in clusters on the underside of the leaves. 

Place a flat board in the garden next to plants.  At night the squash bugs will congregate underneath it and can be easily killed.  Insecticides are most effective if applied while nymphs are small.  Products from Ortho, Sevin and Bayer are labeled for control.  In the fall, all garden debris as well as dead leaves should be cleaned up.    

To get the best quality summer squash harvest when small and tender.  Pick most elongated varieties when less than two inches in diameter or six to eight inches long.  Harvest pattypan types when three to four inches in diameter.  Do not allow summer squash to become large, hard and seedy.  Remove oversized squash and discard to maintain the yield potential of the plants.  Your chickens will love these!

Squash grows rapidly and is usually ready to pick within two to four days after flowering.  Although summer squash has both male and female flowers, only the female flowers produce fruit.  Since the fruit is immature when harvested, it bruises easily.  Handle with care and use immediately after picking.  Some gardeners also pick the open blossoms before the fruit develops.  These blossoms are a delicacy when dipped in batter and fried.

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