When is the right time to pick my squash?

This might sound like a silly question but it is about when to harvest some of my vegetables. My yellow summer squash are really orange and tough when I have been picking them. How do I know when to pick summer and winter squash? My onions tops have fallen over and my potato plants look kind of sad. When are these picked?

The Rules of the Squash Road are very easy to learn. Summer squash are vegetables like zucchini, yellow straightneck and crookneck squash, patty pan or scallop. All you have to remember is to eat them as children. The skin should be glossy and if you used a finger or thumb nail, you could pierce the skin easily. The longer you wait, the tougher and larger they become.

If you wait until the zucchini are like Yule logs and the yellow squash are orange and warty, they are almost inedible. This may be why so many children grow up to hate eating squash. It might be also because the only way it is ever served at home is boiled into a tasteless pulp.

Sure, you can grate larger zucchini for zucchini bread but that portion of the recipe could be replaced by grated carrots or apples and it still would be a sweet, sticky treat.

Winter squash are different. These would be acorn, buttercup, butternut, spaghetti, blue Hubbard and Lakota, to name a few. Leave them on the vines until the vines go down. This should be in September or before a killing frost. You want to cut them so they have some of the stem still connected to them. If you snap them off at the top of the squash, they often rot there.

These squash need the time to develop a tough skin or hard rind to help them withstand cold storage over the winter. Pumpkins never develop this. This is why it is difficult to find pumpkins after Christmas.

What is going on with a lot of maples that I see close to the streets? The edges of the leaves have turned a real rich brown and they are curling. In some places they are falling off, too. I looked for bugs but I don’t see any. Are they dying?

What you are seeing is called leaf scorch. The edges of the leaves are toasted from lack of moisture. The reasons are many.

Generally, maples can have giant root systems and roots very close to the surface of the soil. Notice on large maples how many roots are partially above ground. Don’t bury them; that causes more trouble. Many areas have seen very little or no rain in the last six weeks. And this is just lack of water.

Other maples are crammed into the narrow rectangular piece of land between sidewalk and curb. Surface roots are involved in an activity of taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen which is called respiration. It is critical to the health of the tree. That’s like breathing in slow motion. When roots are forced to grow under streets or sidewalks, this becomes impossible.

If the root area is buried below plastic or under a rock mulch, not much air is getting there either. Often, the strip of soil they are in is compacted clay, making root growth torturous. Scorch could happen because of roots extending under a hard-packed road or sheared off by the road grader.

Look at the leaves. Many may look light green or yellow-green while the veins are green. This is manganese chlorosis caused by soil with a high pH. Late summer and fall are often when scorch symptoms appear.

Leaves often look fine in the spring but the trees are growing poorly and slowly degrading. Look to try solving as many of the problems associated with leaf scorch as you can if any are your trees. The maples will be grateful and live longer.

You can reach Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator, at (517) 546-3950

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