With the summer temperatures here finally, it is time to plant all the heat loving plants. I’m especially enjoying planning for all the different kinds of squash we will grow this season. Not just zucchini, but also delicata, hubbard, those cute little mini pumpkins, etc.
The squash family is called the cucurbit family. It includes cucumbers, pumpkins and all kinds of squash, summer and winter. What is interesting about the squash family is that they are monoecious, which means each plant produces both male and female flowers. When looking closely at the flowers, you will see some are on a longer stem and some have a short fat stem. The short stemmed flowers are female and will develop into the fruit. Many gardeners get confused because the first flowers to come out are often male so will not produce fruit. Relax, the female flowers will form soon and you will get plenty of fruit.
As you can imagine, the pollen needs to get from the male flower to the female flower in order for the fruits to form. This means all squash are dependent on bees for pollination. There are very few colony bees, such as honey bees, in my neighborhood, so we depend on solitary bees, like bumble bees and mason bees.
Bees will travel many hundreds of feet visiting flowers and moving pollen around. This means that the pollen that reaches the female flower may not be from the same type of curcurbit plant. It is typical that many hybridized (cross pollinated) seeds form inside your squashes and cucumbers. The variety of squash or cucumber you purchased to plant in your garden will create the fruit you want the first year, but the seeds may not stay true in the next generation. Saving curcurbit seed does not always produce the same fruit year after year. I appreciate when gardening friends share their favorite variety of saved squash or cucumber seed with me, but I’m reluctant to plant them because they may not produce the desired fruit.
Many people like to start squash early indoors or purchase vegetable starts, but it is also fine to start the seeds outdoors in the garden at any time after Mothers day until the end of June. The last few years I’ve started a second sewing of zucchini late in June because the younger plants produce so much more produce during the month of September.
For a gourmet treat harvest some squash blossoms early in the morning and stuff with mixtures of cheeses, herbs, meats or grain. Twist the tops closed and fry them in a light batter. Or add them to your stir fry at the very end for about 30 seconds. Yummmmm.
Soon your early spring lettuce will be going to seed (bolting). This will cause the lettuce leaves to taste bitter. To have delicious sweet lettuce all summer, continue planting new lettuce every 2 to 3 weeks and keep it well watered. Black seeded Simpson is a good summer variety. For those lettuce plants going to seed, allow several to form their flowers, stake them up and watch for seed development. In a month or so and after it flowers, you will see the little winged seeds that look like dandelions. The seeds will probably be mature enough to harvest at that point. Cut off the top of the plant, place it in a paper grocery bag, and label bag with the variety (if known) and the date, and keep in a dry place out of the sun. This seed usually stays true and will produce well when planted next spring.
Though we had a very cool spring it was surprisingly dry during the month of May. Don’t let your soil dry out because it will stress your plants. In anticipation of a long dry summer, we laid out our drip irrigation by the middle of May, which is fully 2 weeks earlier than normal. But I’m hoping it’ll be a great tomato season.