Squash plants are amazingly productive, and will bring months of joy to your garden and kitchen. They only ask for a small amount of attention in return. They are easy to start and maintain; but keeping up with all of the harvesting will take dedication. Their are two main classes of squash, summer squash like zucchini, sunburst, and crookneck. These squash are softer, and best eaten fresh. Winter squash include pumpkins, acorn squash, butternut, and other hard skinned squash. The winter squash can be harvested and stored for several months. The plants themselves can come in bush or vine varieties. The bush varieties need plenty of space, and can quickly crowd out other plants, so plant accordingly. The vine varieties are good for gardens with limited space, because they can be trained to grow up and onto structures. When you are making plans, it is helpful to to know whether you are planting winter or summer squash as well as whether it is a vine or bush type.
Many gardeners like to plant directly in the ground, while others prefer to start their seeds in pots and then transplant them to the desired location when the first main leaves begin to grow. Squash like full sun and well drained soil. Start seeds after the last danger of frost, usually around March in Santa Cruz, but as late as June in many regions. Seeds like to be warm and moist, not soaked, dry, or hot. Once the plants are established and have one or more real leaves, they can be transplanted. Water once or twice a week.
Squash come in all shapes and sizes, so knowing when to pick your backyard calabaza for optimum flavor takes a little practice. Summer squash should be picked small, and tender; larger fruit has tough skin, big seeds and less flavor. Winter squash should be left on the vine for a long time to grow big and plump. Before the first fall frost, cut winter squash stems, leaving about 1 inch on the fruit. Allow the squash to dry in the sun for about a week before storing in a cool dry place for the winter.
To save seeds for next year, allow one or more of your squash to continue growing until very large, this will make the plant produce less fruit. Before the first frost, remove the squash and leave in the sun to dry for several weeks. You can leave your seed-filled squash in the garden, or remove the seeds and save them in a safe place.