We plant six successions of summer squashes throughout the warm weather months. Although many home gardeners feel like squash is an incredibly easy vegetable to grow, truth is, when you set plants out into 400-to-500 foot beds, two rows per bed, six times per season, squash becomes an insect magnet.

Squash bugs hang out at the farm year-round, spending the colder months hibernating under piles of wood, under spent crops, under anything they can find, only to wake up and rear their stinky heads once they get the first whiff of spring squash plants germinating in pots in the greenhouses. Our only lines of defense are either brute force (a squish between the thumb and forefinger, causing the bugs to squirt their odoriferous spray at us in one final act of vengeance) or by dousing the adults, together with the hundreds of egg clusters laid on the underside of the squash leaves, in bottles of sudsy water that every squash harvester carries along with them.

Cucumber beetles snooze under leaves and other debris during the winter, and then apparently send out a call far and wide to all of their buddies as soon as the first squash plant (or any plant in the cucurbit family) is put into the ground. At least with the cuke beetles, we’re able to hinder their advances for a little while by draping floating row cover over all newly-planted beds. (It does no good against squash bugs – they’re more crawlers than flyers, and they easily scoot underneath the covers.)

As soon as the plants have grown large enough, and have sprouted both male and female flowers, the row covers must come off. This unveiling is both eagerly anticipated (soon there will be squash!) and filled with a sense of dread (hello, cucumber beetles). Yet it’s a necessity in order to facilitate pollination. Bees aren’t as crafty as squash bugs, and require a clear shot at those beautiful flowers.

The plants are rather shaky at first, after having been so pampered under row covers during their growth – and invariably, the day of unveiling is almost always the windiest of the week. While we might uncover the rows in the morning when a calm sits on the farm, we can be assured of wind-advisory gales by that afternoon, throwing each plant to its side in a crumple of stems and leaves. We can’t bare to look.

Miraculously, by the following morning they’ve pulled themselves out of the slump and have already straightened and toughened up. On that day, they’re at their most spectacular.

And it’s all downhill from that point on. We harvest from these plants as long as possible, until diseases brought by various insect and fungal infestations take them out. In a perfect world, shortly before this succession’s demise, we’ve uncovered the next succession which had been planted midway between the initial harvest and final last gasp of this one.

This year, our first succession of summer squash was almost a total failure from the get-go. Fortunately, our second crop, pictured above, is in its stunning phase and has started producing in force. In the greenhouse, the third succession is in its infancy, the plants having recently poked out of their pots. And so it goes.

Because of our disappointment over the first squash crop, Farmer John was especially reluctant to uncover the melons.

As we stood admiring the rows of unblemished perfection, John announced, “I’m leaving the hoops on, in case we want to cover them back up.”

He knows we can’t do that. The melon plants are flowering; the bees will come. Still, it’s difficult to view these tender plants, with their promise of sweet melons in early July, knowing they’re vulnerable to the same pests and diseases that challenge the squash.

Not to mention weeds.

These tiny pigweed babes will take no time at all to grow tall and thick.

Without intervention, they can quickly overtake a ground-hugging crop like melons. Our hard squashes were recently in danger of becoming hidden in the pigweed, as well, until a “group weed” was initiated.

There’s power in numbers, and it didn’t take long for the weeders to uproot most all the pigweed. The Coastal Bermuda growing in and between these rows, however, is a whole different animal. Not much of anything can be done to combat Coastal. For now, we choose to be in denial of the problems its sure to bring later in the season. Without an immediate solution, we’re ignoring it. For now.

I don’t know what response I’ll have for the next home gardener who tells me how simple it is to grow squash and other cucurbits. I might try to explain how a farm situation differs, or I might say nothing. Most certainly, I’ll be envious. Until our next succession’s unveiling when Farmer John and I, and everybody else on the farm, look out at that brand new crop of hope.

* * *

Here’s what we’ll have for you at the farm stand on Wednesday (and don’t forget – street parking is available on Bell Avenue, if we run out of spaces in the Asian Center’s parking lot!):

LOADS of tomatoes — Early Girls, big slicing Bella Rosa, heirloom Cherokee Purple, Italian Bolseno, French Tomande (again this week, we’ll have PLENTY of tomatoes to last throughout the market); lots of summer squash (yay!) – yellow squash, Zephyr and zucchini; oodles of new potatoes — Red Lasoda, and the last of the Yukon Gold; fresh elephant garlic; bunches of basil; bunches of purple beets and golden beets; bulk 1015 onions, super sweet Yellow Granex onions, Red Burgundy onions; and more.

Thanks!
Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm

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