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With a delicate, mild flavor much akin to zucchini, the pattypan squash is a small variety of summer squash that is lesser known than its relatives, yellow squash or zucchini. Photo courtesy of Joe Urbach

Growth in gardening: The UFO Squash

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Have you ever seen a Flying Saucer? No, not the ones in the sky full of little grey aliens, I’m talking about UFO Squash. You might know them better as pattypan or scalloped squash. Whatever you call them, be sure to call them to your garden.

These are a delicious alternative to boring old summer squash. Although zucchini may be the best known summer squash, these odd-looking veggies are getting to be more popular with home gardeners.

Not only are the fruits smaller, the plants are more compact as well – more bushy, less vining. This is making the pattypan very appealing to the smallspace gardener. You can eat the tender squash either raw or cooked in a number of ways. The flesh is much lighter than winter squashes like butternut, but is still extremely healthy and packed with vitamin A. You can also get a sizable helping of vitamin C, fiber, potassium and manganese with a pattypan squash.

With a delicate, mild flavor, much akin to zucchini, the pattypan squash is a small variety of summer squash. Lesser known than its relatives, yellow squash or zucchini, pattypans have a distinct shape. The fun shape of the fruit growing on pattypan squash plants may also be an enticement to getting the kids to eat their veggies. They can begin being eaten when only an inch or two across, making them even more entertaining to kids’ taste buds. In fact, scallop squash is not as moist as crooknecks or zucchini and should be harvested when young and tender. These little flying saucer shaped fruits may be white, green or buttery yellow in color and are round and flat with a scalloped edge.

Scallop squash should be grown in full sun, in rich, well-draining soil. Once the danger of frost has passed, these little squashes can be directly sown into the garden. They are usually planted in groups with two or three seeds per hill and spaced 2-3 feet apart. Thin them to one or two plants per hill once the seedlings attain a height of 2 or 3 inches tall. Give them plenty of room to grow like any squash; their vines spread 4-6 feet. The fruit should mature between 45 and 55 days. There are no secret scallop squash growing tips; the plants are relatively easy to grow. Once your plants start to produce blossoms and fruit, make sure to water them frequently especially if the weather is hot and dry. Keep the squash well and regularly watered and you will be rewarded with plenty of tasty squash no matter how hot our summers become.

Pattypans grow quickly and need a lot of water to develop properly. Don’t let them dry out, I cannot stress this enough. It’s a very good idea to mulch your plants with a heavy layer of straw or other organic material. It helps keep the moisture in and it also keeps the weeds out. Pattypan squash has a fairly shallow root system so getting rid of weeds that can be damaging to the plant is a great idea.

Your plants won’t produce any squash unless they are pollinated, so don’t overdo it with insecticides – when you see the blossoms coming out start putting the insecticides away. You need to leave your plants alone long enough to let the proper insects do their job. This may be a little harder after the first “batch” of flowers have come out, but it is still something to keep in mind when tending your plants. These plants need to be insect pollinated to produce squash. With this in mind, consider this question: Can a pesticide sprayed on a plant choose to kill only the harmful insects while leaving the beneficial insects alive and healthy?

Because of its bushy shape, pattypans are great for container gardening. A 5-gallon pot is fine for each plant, and you won’t have it spilling over once it starts to grow. As pots will dry out faster than soil right in the garden, you definitely need to water your squash frequently so the fruits can grow without getting bitter and don’t forget to mulch your container plants too.

Like most of the squash we grow in our gardens, UFO squash do have a few pests and diseases to watch out for. In fact, all the same pests that plague other forms of garden squash are just as likely to bother your pattypans. As usual, the worst of them are the striped cucumber beetles and the squash vine borers. You can pick the cucumber beetles off the leaves and blossoms by hand – or use a dustbuster like I do – and spray the plants with a natural insect repellent to keep them away.

But the borers are harder to take care of because they are right inside the stalk of the plant, right at the base. If your plants are suddenly wilting heavily (but not due to dryness), there is a good chance you have vine borers. Spraying your plants can sometimes keep them from getting established but once they are in your plant, there isn’t all that much you can do. A slight cut in the vine (lengthwise, not across) can sometimes let you pull out the grubs and not kill the plant.

If the leaves look like they have a dusty covering on them, it means you have mildew. Pruning back the plant to open up a better airflow or a few sprays of fungicide should clear it up, and you should try to water your plants right at the soil instead of over the leaves to keep mildew from coming back. Damp conditions make it worse.

Pattypans are usually picked whenever you want to use one because they are edible and very tasty even when quite small. Around 3 to 4 inches across is best. If they get much larger, they will lose their flavor and get seedy inside. Your plants will need frequent attention, as a squash can go from flower to vegetable in less than a week. The plants are very fruitful, and you will get several dozen squashes from each one. You should keep that in mind when you plan out your garden. A few plants will go a long way, unless you enjoy eating squash at every meal.

I highly recommend that you wear gloves at harvest time, since the plants are quite prickly. Since you will be harvesting many times through the summer, you want to leave your plants unharmed while you pick squash. Either snip the squash off with shears or gently twist them off. Don’t yank.

Winter squash – like acorn or butternut – store very well due to their thick rinds, but the pattypan is a summer squash and much less durable. Store your squash in the refrigerator for about 4 to 5 days, possibly up to a week but no more. They can be frozen but will be extremely soft when thawed, but still usable for soups or purees.

If you’ve been stuck in a squash rut, finding yourself planting the same squash every year or routinely cultivating only zucchini or yellow crooknecks, try growing pattypan squash and you will be as delighted as I always am when I see a flying saucer.

ids and the whole family.

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Joe Urbach is the publisher of GardeningAustin.com and the Phytonutrient Blog. He has lived in the Central Texas area for over 30 years.

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