(Cucurbita pepo) Cocozelle is a wonderful Italian heirloom with long, dark green, lightly striped zucchini fruits. It’s one of our favorites for its incredibly tender flavor and ease of growing.
Its compact bush growth makes it great for smaller space gardens. Prolific producer.
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Sow outside 2-4 weeks after average last frost and when soil temperatures have risen above 60°F. Plant seeds 1⁄2 - 1 inch deep and 12 inches apart. Thin out seedlings after they emerge. Mature bush summer squash plants should be 20 inches apart in rows that are spaced 2 feet apart. If growing a vine variety, planting in hills works well. Plant about 5 seeds per hill. After seedlings emerge and are established, thin to three plants. Stake or provide a trellis for vining varieties.
Consider staggering your plantings of summer squash. Planting two weeks apart can keep you harvesting summer squash a little longer and keep the plants ahead of the game when it comes to pests and disease.
Consistent watering is key with summer squash. Mulch helps a lot with maintaining soil moisture.
Bright yellow squash blossoms are irresistible to all sorts of bees, so this is a great plant for increasing pollinators. If you find you don’t have enough pollinators though, you may need to provide some assistance in the pollination process. The first flowers that bloom are always males. These appear about 40-50 days after planting. A week later the female flowers develop, which are the ones that will produce the fruit after fertilized by the male flowers. So, to help with pollination, pick the first male blooms and brush them against the female blooms.
Pests & Disease:
Many gardeners are very familiar with the pests that love our summer squash. I know we have certainly encountered our fair share of challenges with them! There are several insects that do harm to our summer squash crops.
Squash Bug: One of the most serious pests is the squash bug, a dingy brownish insect 1⁄2 inch or more long,. They resist most organic pesticides, so we handpick the bugs every couple of days to keep them in check. We look for their eggs, a little smaller than sesame seeds, shiny and orange-brown, usually clustered on the underside of the leaves and remove them with the sticky side of tape.
Cucumber Beetles: These yellow spotted or striped insects look a lot like ladybugs and can quickly spread bacterial wilt to the squash. They prefer cucumbers, but any cucurbit will attract them. If the vines suddenly wilt, it could be a symptom of bacterial wilt. Remove the infected parts of the plant, but be sure to disinfect your pruners before using them again. There is no treatment for bacterial wilt, so it is important to monitor frequently for cucumber beetles. We have also found yellow sticky traps to be a highly effective control.
Squash Vine Borers: The adult borer resembles a wasp. It is about 1/2 inch long with a red abdomen with black dots. The larvae can damage or destroy the plant by feeding through the center of the stems, blocking the flow of water to the rest of the plant. The larvae feed for four to six weeks, then exit the stems and burrow about one to two inches into the soil to pupate. They remain there until the following summer.
We have found using row covers early on in the season to be the most effective method of prevention for these pests. Prevention is key because these particular pests can be very difficult to control once they start to establish themselves. Be sure to remove the row cover once the plants start producing female flowers to make them available for the bees to pollinate.
For optimum flavor and quality, harvest summer squash at its young, tender stage. They will taste better when tender, and you’ll want to keep the fruit off the plant so it keeps producing. Pick when the summer squash is about 2 inches in diameter, or 6-8 inches long.