• Choose small, firm squash with bright colour and no bruises or soft spots.
• Handle summer squash with care, because the tender skin bruises easily.
• It is not necessary to peel squash. Most of its nutrients are in the skin.
• Refrigerate, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to five days.
Types of squash
Crookneck: Bulbous at the blossom end, these slender golden-yellow squash curve into their stems. The aptly named 'Horn of Plenty' is one popular hybrid.
Pattypan (also called scallop squash): Flying saucer–shaped and predominantly green, yellow or white, each pattypan has a horizontal ridge around its centre. These ridges range from almost smooth to scallops with curves or points (earning one golden squash variety the name 'Sunburst').
Zucchini: Ranging from dark green to deep yellow, this summer squash is perhaps the most familiar to Canadian cooks. Usually cylindrical, zucchini is also available in spherical hybrids, such as 'Eight Ball.'
Planting squash in your garden
Tender summer squash love heat and sunshine and require a short growing season, ranging from 45 to 55 days. Extremely frost intolerant, the seeds or plants won't thrive outdoors until the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past, which means early June across most of Canada. However, you can enjoy summer squash sooner and extend your harvest by buying plants from a nursery or starting seeds indoors.
Susceptible to damage during transplanting, squash is best sown early, in peat pots or soil blocks that can be planted directly into the garden.
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Follow seed-packet instructions for sowing dates and pretreatment (seeds may germinate best when soaked for a day or two first), and plant two or three seeds in each pot or block. After these germinate (in a week to 10 days) and "true" leaves develop, remove weakest seedlings, leaving one per pot or block. A week before planting outside, begin hardening off seedlings by setting them in a sheltered spot outside for longer periods each day. Deep-dig a plot in full sun, amending soil with compost and/or composted manure.
Most summer squash are compact, bush-type plants. Space them 60 to 90 centimetres apart, water well, then cover surrounding soil with up to 10 centimetres of organic mulch and lay soaker hose along the row. You can also plant squash in mounds or raised beds; if you do, keep a watchful eye since the soil may dry out quickly. Squash veterans caution against planting too much; two or three plants for a family garden is plenty. You'll need to weed around young plants (later on, their leaves will inhibit weed growth) and keep them moist, watering deeply at soil level at least twice a week during dry spells all season.
Once plants flower, you'll see first male then female blossoms (both are edible). Each female blossom has a swelling at its base; when pollinated, it develops into fruit. Bees carry pollen from male to female flowers, so don't use pesticides. If you do spot any striped or spotted cucumber beetles on plants, pick them off by hand.
Harvesting your crop of squash
Check plants every two or three days, harvesting crookneck squash and zucchini when they are shiny, firm and less than 17 centimetres long, and pattypan at 7.5 to 10 centimetres in diameter. The more you pick, the more the plant will produce. Unlike their winter-squash cousins, tender summer varieties have a short storage life of about a week in the refrigerator.
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