Growing Zucchini & Other Squash
by Rob Sproule
Squash can be a pretty intimidating vegetable to grow considering that they can grow to be the size of a small car. Fear not, because there are so many varieties of squash that you can grow your own, even in containers.
There are hundreds of types of squash, ranging from the classics like zucchini and pumpkin to the just plain weird.
Zucchini, which is also called courdette, is by far the most popular squash to grow in Alberta. It’s a summer squash, meaning it’s compact (by squash standards, so still quite large).
From Seed to Seedling
Starting squash from seed is easy. Make sure you have a warm spot (above 20 degrees C if possible) and plant 1 or 2 seeds in each 3″ pot.
Keep the soil moist and they will germinate in about a week. Give them as much light as possible and they’ll grow quickly. They grow so quickly, in fact, that I wouldn’t recommend starting them indoors before the second week of April.
Once the seedlings are 2 weeks old give them a feed of all-purpose fertilizer at quarter strength. While they will be heavy feeders in the garden, as infants their roots are still vulnerable to burning.
From Seedling to Harvest
A big misconception about growing squash is that they are too big for containers. While this is true for the monstrous varieties of winter squash that seen bent on world domination, it’s a myth when it comes to summer varieties. Zucchini and most bush varieties excel in containers where their roots stay warm and you can better control their watering.
A self-watering container is ideal because squash are picky about watering. A layer of mulch will also help keep their shallow root system snug and moist.
Taking the time to work some compost or sea soil into your mix will yield big rewards later on. Squash thrives on organic material and compost does just the trick.
Squash roots are fragile and the plant will throw a tantrum if they’re disturbed. Transplant very gently, being careful not to disturb the roots.
If you’re putting your squash into the garden, I recommend using a hill method. Mound up a small hill and plant the squash carefully in the middle. Like its relative the cucumber, the squash hates wet feet and needs extra air circulation around its lower leaves to prevent mildew. A hill solves these issues nicely.
When you’re watering the plants try not to splash wet mud onto the leaves, especially if it’s in the evening. Squash plants are susceptible to mildew and even blight if their leaves are left wet and cold.
Harvesting and Uses
Squash produce both male and female flowers on the same plant, but if the summer is too cool it may only produce males, which don’t yield fruit. Female flowers have a distinct squash shaped bulge on its stem. If you’re going to eat the flowers, as many do, pick the male flowers to let the females yield.
Zucchini is infamous for producing an overabundance of fruit. If you want to control the fruit production, snip off about half of the flowers as they open. If you can’t eat it all, don’t just leave it hanging on the vine as this will send a signal to the plant to stop producing.
I suggest getting a few other gardening friends and arranging to trade some of your zucchini for other veggies that you don’t have. Gardening is about creating communities, and being able to trade fresh produce with others is a great ice-breaker.