“On storing squash for winter where is the best place to store a rather large abundance of fresh zucchini, spaghetti squash, and butternut squash.” Question from Jennifer of Wataga, Illinois
Answer: Summer and winter squashes are stored very differently. Tender zucchini and summer squash have a relatively short shelf life of a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, and they freeze fairly well but freeze even better as tasty baked goods. That’s why many gardeners bake and freeze zucchini bread and zucchini chocolate chip muffins, among other yummy treats. If you want to try freezing zucchini: wash, blanch, ice, and then freeze it in proper storage bags. (Click here for the steps.) Zucchini can also be made into relish for canning.
Storing Winter Squash
Tough-rinded winter squashes, like butternut, acorn, spaghetti squash, and pumpkins will often store well for months in a cool, dry place. Dry basements or cool mudrooms are perfect. You can also refrigerate them if you have space. Sometimes, I will process my pumpkins for pie and soup and freeze the frozen mash. This is another option. (Click here to learn how to cook pumpkins for mash and pie.)
“Is it possible to grow squash in a container?” Question from Anne Marie of Napa, California
Answer: Bush squashes grow beautifully in large containers. In fact, I plan to plant a few in my garden this year. The key is making sure that you choose a compact, bush-forming variety. You can find bush zucchini, summer squash, pumpkins, and winter squash. I plant mine in containers that are at least 24-inches across and 12 to 18 inches deep. Here are my top varieties for container growing.
Favorite Bush Squash for Containers
Sunburst Scallop Summer Squash: Sunburst is a garden mainstay for me and is great to harvest at the baby stage. It is short-vined and produces lots of tasty yellow pattypan squash.
Wee-B-Little Pumpkins: Tiny Wee-B-Little pumpkins grow on very short vines that take well to container growing.
Honeybear Acorn Squash: Also on short, semi-bush vines, this AAS award-winning winter squash grows well in containers and is very sweet.
Max’s Gold Summer Squash: Here’s a classic golden summer squash that has few seeds, great flavor, and grows on compact bushes.
Squashes need full sun. I recommend planting yours in either Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix or Black Gold® Natural & Organic Flower and Vegetable Soil. Both are OMRI Listed for organic gardening. Plant two seeds in the center of each pot, about 1 to 2 inches down, and keep the seeds lightly watered until they sprout. Keep the most vigorous of the seedlings once it has started developing its true leaves–pluck out the other. Fertilize with a plant food formulated for vegetable growing once they begin to actively grow and keep the pot lightly moist. Never let it dry out severely.
“What is the pollinator for summer squash? I stopped trying to grow them after getting zero fruits last summer!” Question from Robin of Warner, New Hampshire
Answer: It is frustrating when squash do not set fruits. There can be several reasons why, but the primary reason is lack of pollination. The main pollinators are bees or all types, but squash (Cucurbita spp.) are native American plants, so they have unique native American bees specialized for pollinating them. Squash bees are small and come in two groups (Peponapis species and Xenoglossa species). They are solitary, meaning that they do not create hives, and they ONLY pollinate squash.
Keeping a Yard for Bees
Your squash should be enough to encourage squash bees, but if they are not abundant in your area, then you will need to rely on other bees to do the job. One way to encourage more bees to visit your vegetable garden is to plant swaths of garden flowers for bees nearby. Surrounding your garden with flowers is a great method. Bees love easy flowers like zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, sunflowers, and black-eyed-Susans. (Watch the video below to learn more about flowers for bees.)
It is also essential to refrain from using toxic pesticides in your garden. These kill bees that happen to land on a sprayed spot. Harsh chemicals in the garden aren’t worth it.
Sometimes fertilizer imbalance can contribute to poor production. Be sure to feed your squash with a quality fertilizer formulated for vegetables. Low light can also cause poor fruit set, so give your plants full-day sun. For additional information, I recommend that you read this article: Why Aren’t My Squash Bearing Fruit and Do They Have Borers?
Black Gold Horticulturist
“How can I determine if a squash plant in my raised bed is just “doing bad,” or if it’s “doing bad because a squash vine borer might have gotten it?” And does one bad squash plant ruin all the rest in the same bed? Nothing seems to be bearing fruit now.” Question from Cat of Horse Shoe, North Carolina.”
Answer: You are in luck! Most of these common questions for squash growers have already been answered for Ask a Garden Expert inquirers. The answers are below. But, you also ask a question has not been addressed. This is about the idea of one squash plant damaging another.
One squash plant can only damage another if it is carrying a disease that can easily be spread. Do you see badly wilting leaves without the evidence of holes or damage on the stems (see the vine borer piece, which shows stem borer images.). Do you see white, dusty mold (powdery nildew) on the leaves or brown or yellow spots? If so, your plants likely have a disease. There are many that attack squash. Some, like powdery mildew, can be managed, while others are deadly. (Click here for a detailed article on all squash diseases.)
“How do you get rid of squash bugs?” Question from Judy of Louisville, Mississippi
Answer: Surely these are some of the most annoying and destructive of all summer vegetable garden pests. To manage squash bugs (Anasa tristis), you need to understand their life cycle.
Squash Bug Life Cycle
These true bugs attack squash and relatives, like cucumbers, pumpkins, and zucchini. They spend their winters sheltering under garden debris, leaves, rocks, and logs. Sometimes they even enter homes for refuge. When spring weather warms, they seek out squash plants, mate, and lay eggs on developing squash plants. The clusters of brownish-orange eggs hatch in just 5 to 10 days. Bug nymphs emerge and develop into adult squash bugs that suck the juices from squash stems, leaves, flowers and developing fruits. Badly infested plants will show signs of wilt and have poor fruit output and development.
Squash Bug Management
The first thing you can do to protect your garden is to remove all infested plant material from your beds in fall. Good garden sanitation will destroy winter cover for these bugs, which will decrease their populations during the cold season. In spring, keep a lookout for their eggs. If you see any on leaves or stems, scrape them off immediately and smash them. Once you begin to see adults, remove them by hand or spray them with an OMRI Listed insecticidal spray approved for organic gardening, like insecticidal soap, neem oil, or horticultural oil. [Click here to read more about using horticultural oils.]
It also pays to plant squash-bug-resistant varieties, which include most butternut varieties, ‘Early Summer Crookneck,’ ‘Improved Green Hubbard,’ ‘Royal Acorn‘, and ‘Zucchetta Tromboncino’.
“The last couple of years that we have planted zucchini, a worm of some sort has eaten to roots and caused the plants to die. We try to use as little chemicals as possible but don’t know what else to do. We have tried 7 dust, diatomaceous earth and this year we even tilled several times before planting but yet our plants still died because of this insect. It doesn’t bother other plants just the zucchini.” Question from Michelle of Copperas Cove, Texas
Answer: You have squash vine borers! These moth pests lay their eggs at the base of zucchini and squash vines. Then their larvae hatch and bore into the base of the squash, eating away at the stem interiors until the vines wilt and die due to lack of food and water. Bush zucchini and squash are most susceptible because they have just one stem supporting the whole plant.
There are several things you can do to keep borers and bay, and none require pesticides.
Tackle Borers Early
The key is getting to the borers before they get to your squash. The half-inch-long moths are gray with orange-red bodies dotted with black. They buzz like wasps and reproduce just once a year. Look for them early in the summer, when they are ready to lay clusters of tiny, flat, brown eggs at the base of squash stems or lower leaves. The eggs take just one week to hatch.
Keep a lookout for adults and egg clusters after you plant your squash. If you find the eggs, gently scrape them away. Continuous checking and egg removal will keep the borers at bay. The moths are also attracted to the color yellow, so another method is laying yellow sticky traps at the base of the stems.
Some gardeners also find success placing floating row covers over squash up until midsummer. You just have to secure the row cover edges to keep insects from getting inside until the borer threat has passed. Then remove the covers to ensure your zucchini flowers get pollinated.
If borers do infiltrate your zucchini stems, you can actually remove them! Look for holes filled with tan, gravelly frass (insect droppings) at the stem base. As soon as you see these borer signs, gently slice open the stem lengthwise, doing as little damage as possible, and remove the yucky borers. This process is a lot easier than you might think.
Plant Zucchini Later in the Season
Lots of bush zucchini will produce fruit in as little as 45 to 50 harvest days. So, if you plant new plants in midsummer, after the squash borers have stopped reproducing, you can worry less about borers.
Plant Borer-Resistant Zucchini
Vining squash and zucchini types require more space, but their stems root along the ground, making them resistant to borers. If one stem is attacked, the others will support the growing vine. Two great resistant varieties to try include ‘Cocozella Di Napoli‘ and ‘Costata Romanesco‘.
Along the flood plains of America’s rivers, indigenous tribes cultivated crops for centuries. Before levees, rivers spread out far and wide, yet shallow, with each spring flood depositing yet another layer of rich silt upon those from millennia past. These tribes grew the three sisters of Native American agriculture: corn, squash, and beans. Growing in the three-sisters style is a great way to teach youngsters or to create a family project that demonstrates much about gardens, climate, and history.
The Benefits of Three Sisters Gardens
Unlike our farm-row monoculture plantings, three sisters agriculture plants all three crops close together on a single mound of earth. First, the corn is sown, germinates, and produces a young stalk. Next, the beans are sown next to the corn to climb that stalk. Like other legumes, beans fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to fertilize the heavy -feeding corn. Winter squash is third, which benefits from the shelter of the corn and beans while the large squash leaves shade soil to keep root zone temperatures lower under each mound.
This easy backyard garden project is adaptable to different size spaces by adjusting the mound’s dimensions. It can be just 18″ in diameter for small spaces or for large gardens go up to four feet with proportionately more plants. While irrigating with drip systems, some like to create a depression in the center of the mound that allows for an occasional deep watering ideal for hot dry days.
In the riverbank Indian villages, they saved bones and other leftovers from their fish preparation to fertilize the mounds. The heads, bones, fins, and organs were buried deep into the mound to decompose there and release important nutrients throughout the growing season.
Creating a Three Sisters Garden
When creating your own mounds, blend in generous amounts of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend to increase humus levels and overall fertility. To boost microbe and micronutrient content work Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend into the surface soil where the seeds will be sown. In lieu of fish heads, which attract pests, install pockets of fertilizer deep within the soil mound where roots can find them for long-term availability to the plants.
Virtually any corn, squash or climbing beans can be used, but heirloom varieties of these American plants will be closer to those grown by the Indians. In the west explore Native Seed/SEARCH online for rare strains grown by tribes in the desert and northern Mexico. These are the original three sisters varieties developed by Pueblo farmers, but those heirlooms grown by tribes in the north and east are adapted to shorter growing seasons.
The river gardens were closely protected during the growing season by tribal members who kept a sharp eye out for marauding wildlife or theft. Often young women sat upon an elevated platform for a better view of the field and sang while watching for stealthy young men who’d steal the fresh ears to cook for themselves, and in the process, many marriages found their start amidst the “sisters”.
Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden is a reprint of the 1917 book that documents the Hidatsa tribal gardens on the Missouri River flood plain. In this personal account, you will learn everything about the gardens and the role of women within them. Most of all we learn from Buffalo Bird Woman just how intimate these indigenous people were with their crops: “We cared for our corn in those days as we would care for a child; for we Indian people loved our gardens, just as a mother loves her children; and we thought that our growing corn liked to hear us sing, just as children like to hear their mother sing to them.”
Three Sisters On The Mound
Sister #1 Maize Any kind of corn grows this way but heirloom varieties are shorter with strong stout stalks. If you find decorative Indian corn in the store and love the color, save those ears in a cool dry place to plant in your three sisters garden next year. Order Indian corn seed online for the widest selection, particularly the new Glass Gem popcorn. Small mound: 4 or 5 seeds 6″ apart.
Sister #2 Beans For this growing method use standard climbing beans. Most indigenous tribes grew beans for drying and winter storage, but any green bean that climbs is fine. Small mound: 4 beans close enough to corn for easy climbing.
Sister #3 Squash Winter squash were harvested, sliced, strung onto sticks and dried in the open air before storage. Stick with one variety to avoid cross-pollination. Small mound: 2 seeds, one on each side of the mound.