Every farmer has a favorite vegetable of the season. In the summer it could be eggplant, peppers, okra, potatoes, tomatoes, etc. For me, it is summer squash. Now before you gasp in horror that I chose what you may think of as a bland, watery vegetable over something sweet and colorful like a tomato, hear me out.
Summer squash are a joy for California farmers because they come into season in June, right during the spring-to-summer shoulder season. June is when the weather either favors cool-season spring crops like lettuce and radishes, or it favors hot-weather crops that love the heat but are not quite old enough to be productive. Luckily, summer squash is a relatively reliable early-summer crop because they grow quickly and fruit early.
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On our farm we transplant our first succession of squash in early April and cover them with row cover to protect them from a late frost and cucumber beetles, and to give them a little extra warmth to speed up their maturity. The row cover is a messy, dusty pain, but it is worth it when we get summer squash in May.
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Over the summer we direct seed into the soil for two more successions of summer squash and retire older successions. Organic summer squash plants eventually become overrun by beetles and aphids, and fresh successions help us have healthy and productive plants all season long. Other farmers may grow their summer squash in greenhouses or use organic or non-organic sprays to help mitigate pest and weather problems.
Once summer squash plants begin to produce, farmers harvest them two to four times a week. This is another benefit to summer squash, and a bane. Namely, you can almost always rely on having summer squash, but you also always have summer squash to harvest. Harvesting itself is a scratchy process that requires gloves to protect your skin from the plant’s trichomes and a small, hooked knife to sneak between the leaves and slice off the fruit (yes, summer squash is actually a fruit because it is the product of a pollinated flower). But in comparison to harvesting smelly tomatoes, dusty eggplant and heavy melons, I find harvesting summer squash to be very meditative.
These are interesting reasons why a farmer may like summer squash, but why would I say it is my favorite summer vegetable? Because of its incomparable ability to feed you a delicious meal. If your meals are centered around vegetables rather than meat or dairy, then you are no novice to summer squash as an excellent “filler” vegetable. But instead of the bland, overcooked zucchini you are used to seeing …….