Straightneck squash is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying crops to grow. Sunny yellow fruits are easy to see for harvesting and their delicate flavor lends them to countless sautés, stir-fries, and salads. A close cousin to yellow crookneck squash and zucchini, these summer squashes are prolific and undemanding.
Straightneck squash plants
Like other bushy squash plants, straightneck varieties produce large, bristled leaves that make them useful when grown together with corn and pole beans in the Three Sisters Method. Stems are tubular and bristled. These plants take up some room, growing to three feet tall and wide aboveground and even wider root systems underground.
These plants produce both male and female flowers. Female flowers have tiny, unfertilized fruits at the base. Male flowers, which tend to come out first, do not have these structures. Since squash are not self-pollinating, bees and other pollinators are needed for a harvestable crop to develop.
How to grow straightneck squash
Squash plants are heavy feeders. Prepare growing areas before planting with lots of nutrient-rich aged compost and manure or fertilizer. Their taproots make them best suited to direct seeding, rather than transplanting. They can be grown in large containers, but prefer the ground.
Once temperatures stay at or above 60°F, seeds can be planted 2” deep and 3 to 4 feet apart, if planting in rows. Another option is to create hills that are 6” to 12” tall and 20” across. In each hill, plant 4 or 5 seeds, spread 3” apart, and keep only the best seedling for each hill, snipping off the others at soil level. In arid regions, you can use inverted hills or shallow areas. This makes watering easier, but it may increase problems with pests and fungal disease.
You can help them stay healthy and productive by top-dressing around plants with aged compost or fish emulsion. Avoid applying extra nitrogen. Nitrogen stimulates leaf growth, not fruit.
Insufficient pollination is a common problem with squash plants. You can overcome this problem by collecting male anthers and touching them to female flowers repeatedly until pollination occurs. Hand-pollinating takes little time and it works very well.
Straightneck squash pests and diseases
This is one case where you have to trust that your straightneck squash plants will produce abundant crops against all odds. There are astounding numbers of pests and diseases that can and will go after your squash plants, and you will still get big harvests.
Those insect attackers include aphids, armyworms, cabbage loopers, crickets and grasshoppers, cucumber beetles, cutworms, darkling beetles, dried fruit beetles, earwigs, false chinch bugs, flea beetles, green peach aphids, leafhoppers, leaf miners, Lygus bugs, melon aphids, melon flies, Mexican fruit flies, mites, nematodes, redhumped caterpillars, seed corn maggots, spider mites, squash bugs, squash ladybugs, squash vine borers, stink bugs, thrips, two-spotted spider mites, whiteflies, and wireworms. If you live in the southeastern U.S., melonworm moths and pickleworms may also be a problem. Deer, rats, squirrels, and other animals will also take a bite out of your straightneck squash crops. Monitor plants for signs of damage and treat as needed.
The disease arena is no less daunting, but you can take most of it with a grain of salt. These plants are, as I’ve said, productive and low-maintenance. Diseases that may occur on your squash include Alternaria leaf blight, angular leafspot, aphid borne yellow virus, ashy stem blight, bacterial leaf blotch, bacterial wilt, bean yellow mosaic, beet yellows virus, belly rot, charcoal rot, cucumber mosaic, cucurbit aphid-borne yellows, cucurbit yellow stunting disorder, curly top, damping off, downy mildews, Fusarium wilt, leaf blight, measles, Phytophthora fruit and crown rot, potyviruses, powdery mildew, septoria leaf spot, squash mosaic virus, sudden wilt, Verticillium wilt, virus decline, and zucchini yellow mosaic. Spacing plants out properly, feeding and irrigating regularly, and checking on your plants every few days should prevent any serious problems.
Environmental conditions can also lead to problems such as bitter fruit and blossom end rot. These problems can often be prevented with regular irrigation. If your squash plants are growing well but there’s no fruit, it may be a molybdenum deficiency. An affordable lab-based soil test can tell you if this is your problem.
Two straightneck squash plants should keep your family supplied all summer. At the end of the season, let one squash grow past the tender stage and save its seeds for next year. Just keep different varieties of summer squash away from each other as cross-pollination can occur.
How many types of summer squash are you growing this year?
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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