It wasn’t too terribly long ago that zucchini wasn’t very plentiful and it was called green Italian squash. Somewhere along the line someone found it was really easy to grow and could be used in a variety of culinary dishes, both savory and sweet. During the 70s and 80s you could pick up a zucchini just about anywhere; in fact, many people were trying to get rid of them as they grow rather prolifically.
Interestingly enough Zucchini is a part of the cucumber and melon family. The type we are most familiar with is a variety of summer squash that was developed in Italy. Most varieties are long and cylindrical in shape but some zucchini types grow round like bowling balls. The color is usually green with or without stripes and some varieties are more yellowish or have cream or yellow colored speckles.
If you are looking for something really easy to grow that you can share with friends and family, this is the vegetable to plant in your garden. Don’t bother trying to start seeds in pots in the early spring. Zucchini grows fast and you can plant seeds directly into the garden spaced about 20 inches apart. You can also plant about 5 seeds in a small hill and space hills about 2 feet apart. Be careful how many seeds you plant. Six plants will give you enough to feed a family of four and still have enough to give away.
Zucchini grows on bushy almost vining plants so give it plenty of room to grow. You can also grow the vines up a trellis; just be careful how big you let the fruit get as it will tend to get very large, very fast and pull the trellis down. Zucchini will put forth blossoms, some of which will be female and some male. The female blossoms will have small balls at the end where the blossom meets the vine. This is where the fruit will grow. The males do not have these but they are very important to have. Without the male flowers pollination won’t take place as easily. If you see double the number of male blossoms than female blossoms you can pick some of the male ones off to encourage more blossoms that you hope will be female. Bees are needed for pollination. They take the pollen from the male flower to the female flower. If there is little bee population, which seems to be a big problem these days, you may see your female blossoms drop off the plant.
Zucchini has a few insects that can cause problems. They are leaf miners, aphids, cutworms, squash bugs, and cucumber beetles. If you see bumpy leaves or your leaves look like they are being eaten or turn brown and fall off, or if the plant looks as if it has been eaten off at the ground level or the plant just seems to be rotting away – you have one of these insects. Go to your local nursery and they will provide you with information to rid it of the pests. Just make sure the product used doesn’t kill bees.
Common diseases are downy and powdery mildew (leaves get a white substance on them). Again, your local nursery can help.
Do not plant your zucchini next to other varieties of squash such as summer squash, spaghetti squash or pumpkins. They will cross pollinate.
Zucchini does not like to totally dry out so keep soil moderately moist. Leaves will begin to wilt in drought conditions. However, make sure the soil is dry before watering.
Zucchini should be harvested when the fruit is 6 to 8 inches long. Any bigger and the fruit will not be as tender. If one gets away from you and hides under the leaves becoming as big as a baseball bat, it is no use. Just discard it as there will be no flavor. Remember, the more fruit you harvest – the more fruit will grow. If you want the plant to slow down, just leave a few fruit on to grow larger.
Fresh Zucchini is most desirable but freezing is probably the best way to preserve for cooking. Shred zucchini without peeling it and place it in a colander. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can and place 1 or 2 cups in freezer bags. This will keep for about 3 or 4 months.
Zucchini is probably the most satisfying crop you can grow. You will rarely be disappointed. You can find out how to use your homegrown zucchini in savory or sweet dishes.