Arizona Gardening: It's not too late to plant summer squash - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Arizona Gardening: It's not too late to plant summer squash

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Posted: Friday, May 9, 2008 10:59 pm | Updated: 9:39 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

 Q: Is it too late to plant summer squash? If not, are they difficult to grow?

Q: Is it too late to plant summer squash? If not, are they difficult to grow?

A: Most of the planting guides I’ve seen suggest that the planting of summer squash ends April 15. But I plant them even during May and they’ll produce all summer long. Late spring and all summer, summer squash is the one of the few food crops that will withstand the summer heat.

Summer squash grow on vine-type bushes and are harvested immature, while the outer rind is still soft, compared to winter squash that are eaten when the fruit is mature and has a harder shell like pumpkin, acorn and Hubbard. (Summer squash also must be eaten fresh, while winter squash will keep for several months.)

If you want some quick and easy success gardening, then I’d recommend summer squash. It is probably the easiest to grow and it just keeps on producing. One plant will produce many squash, so don’t overplant.  

Site selection needs to be open with at least 8 hours of sunlight.

In the desert, compost or mulch need to be added before growing vegetables because of the alkaline in the soil. My garden is in boxes 4-foot square made of 2-by-6 wood and filled with potting soil. In addition to good light soil, you need to add fertilizer before planting so the seedings have some nourishment as soon as they emerge. Mix in some 16-20-0 (ammonium sulfate), similar to the way you would sprinkle pepper on your food. You also need to mix in sulfur at about the some amount as you would sprinkle powdered sugar on chocolate cake. Mix these all together; water it and when the soil is dried to just moist, plant.

Prepare the seed by gently filing along the edges of the seed to give the seedling an easier time to get out; afterwards soak the seed in tepid water for three to four hours to soften it. These tips will shave a few days of germinating time.

Space summer squash 2 feet to 3 feet apart. A family only needs two or three plants unless you want to supply the whole neighborhood.

Daily watering is a must during the months of May and June. You can create a simple automatic watering system by hooking up a line to a nearby outdoor hose faucet. You can obtain a battery-operated irrigation controller at a home supply or hardware stores. Use a brass Y at the faucet so you can still use it for other watering chores. Be sure to turn off the hose water at the Y, not at the faucet, or the timer won’t have a supply of water to turn on. The controller and a pressure reducer connect to the other Y. From the reducer, you will insert 1/2-inch poly tubing and run it to the garden. To actually deliver water to your plants, use 1/4-inch in-line drip emitter tubing. The drip emitters are built into the tubing every 6 inches, so run the tubing down and around your plants. You could also use a soaker hose connected directly to the battery-operated controller without the addition of a pressure reducer. However a soaker hose will only last about one year before becoming clogged with minerals.

Cucurbits — which include squash, melons and cucumbers — have a distinct flowering habit. They grow separate male and female flowers on the same plant. For fruit to develop, pollen has to be transferred from male to female flowers. The pollen is sticky and is normally transferred by bees; however very often this doesn’t occur. So, hand-pollinating is the easiest and best way to ensure fruit development, and it’s simple to do.

You can determine the difference between male and female flowers by looking at the flower base. Female flowers can be recognized easily by the presence of a miniature fruit at the base of the flower. The male squash flower has a long, slender stem. The female flower has a very short stem. Pick a male flower and remove the pedals and dab the sticky yellow center on the stigma in the center of the female flower. One male will pollinate several female flowers. It’s important to use only freshly opened flowers when hand-pollinating in early morning because the pollen is receptive for only one day. Remember, male flowers will open first so don’t be discouraged if your plants lack female flowers. Female flowers open somewhat later, so be ready to hand-pollinate when female flowers appear.

CONTACT WRITER: john@johnchapman.com

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