How to Grow and Use Fresh Zucchini
As all squash, zucchini is a very easy plant to grow. The seeds are large and germinate easily and each plant produces a lot of fruit. Zucchini can be planted after all danger of spring frost when temperatures reach 65-70 degrees and can be planted throughout the spring. As always, make sure to add a good amount of good organic matter (compost, well-rotted manure, etc) to your garden soil.
How to Plant Zucchini Seeds:
When planting seeds you have a couple of options:
- Form mounds in the soil that are about 6-8 inches high and 2 feet in diameter. Space these mounds about 3 feet apart from each other. You can plant about 6 seeds in each.
- Plant seed directly into rows. The seeds should be spaced about 1 1/2 feet apart at minimum.
- You can also start your seeds inside a couple of weeks before your planned planting day to get a headstart and ensure germination.
Keep the soil moist to ensure that the seeds germinate and you should see growth within a week.
The Growing Plant
Zucchini grows pretty quickly and you should get your first fruits in about 45 days. Once the plants are established you can mulch around the base to help retain the soil's moisture and regulate the temperature of the plant and soil. Like all plants zucchini needs sufficient water so be sure to water during dry periods. When watering it is best to get water to the base of the plant via soaker hoses or by watering individually to reduce the chances of powdery mildew.
Pests of Zucchini
There are a couple of pests you should be on the look out for while growing zucchini. One is the striped cucumber beetle. This beetle is small with yellow and black stripes. It also attacks cucumber, but zucchini is very attractive to it as well. Most zucchini plants are strong enough to overcome the danger to this pest. You can hand pick off these little beetles or try dusting the base of the plant with Diatomaceous Earth.
Another major pest of the zucchini plant is the squash bug. As your plant grows you should periodically look at the undersides of the leaves for clusters or rows of copper colored eggs. If you find these clusters you should remove them immediately. Also look around the base of the plant for the adult bugs- which look like stink bugs. You can hand pick these off too. I like to keep a jug of soapy water in the garden to put all of the pests in as I pick them off.
The squash vine borer is one of the hardest pests to remove from the garden. Most gardeners don't notice it until all of a sudden their plants start wilting in the afternoon sun. To get rid of these you can try to set out yellow pan traps- any container colored yellow filled with water- to lure in the adults. Also once the infected plant falls remove it from the garden to help eradicate the pest.
Most healthy plants grown in healthy organic soil can overcome pests. Remember that when you spray insecticides you will also kill the beneficial insects that can aid in your fight against pest. With a little diligence you can grow zucchini organically and avoid all those unhealthy chemicals on your food.
Zucchini is ready to pick when they are about 6 inches long. The smaller the fruit is the more tender and less seedy it will be. Zucchini plants are very prolific producers and you will often find you have more squash than you know what to do with. Pick them often because they grow quickly. Oftentimes you find one that is not quite ready to pick only to find a huge monster of a zucchini the next day. You can also pick the blossoms and use them fresh in salads, batter and fry them as fritters or stuff them among other things. Zucchini keeps best at room temperature on the counter, but you can refrigerate it to extend its life by a couple more days. It tends to get soggy when frozen, but you can freeze bag-fulls of grated zucchini for use in breads or other recipes all year long.
What do I do with all this squash?!
Like I mentioned, zucchini is amazing in the amount one plant can produce. I am sure you will find your self swimming in it before too long. Here are a couple of ideas for what to do with all that squash!
- This one is the most obvious- make zucchini bread. Most recipes are high in sugar and oil, but they also adapt well to using applesauce in place of oil or butter and I never use more than half the called for sugar in my breads and muffins.
- Zucchini Quesadillas. These are a favorite summertime lunch at our place. Chop up zucchini, onions and garlic and sauté with butter till soft. Place them in a tortilla with grated cheese.
Make pickles. Zucchini pickles taste very similar to cucumber pickles. I have had good luck using my standard refrigerator pickle recipe and just substituting zucchini for the cucumbers.
Make "pasta"! Julienne the zucchini into nice long "noodles". Toss them with salt and allow them to drain for a few minutes before briefly steaming them. Toss them with pasta sauce, butter or your choice of toppings.
Chocolate Zucchini Bread. This is hands down the most asked for by my kids. The zucchini adds vitamins and moistness to the bread. It also adapts well to using less oil and sugar. Though full sugar is definitely more tasty!
Garlic and Herb Zucchini Bread. This one is a focaccia type bread. Zucchini, chopped fresh herbs and lots of garlic. It also makes a wonderful pizza crust.
Make chips. Slice the zucchini very thin- about a 1/4 inch. Toss them lightly with a little bit of olive oil and salt (or you can try garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, whatever you like!) Don't use too much as the seasoning will concentrate as the chips dry out. Place them in a dehydrator or the oven at the lowest temperature. Allow them to bake/dehydrate until crispy, turning once.
Slice it thin and layer it with, or in place of, noodles in a lasagna.
Cut thick slices and layer with sauce and cheese for little zucchini pizzas. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly.
If you accidentally leave forget to pick one and find a monster zucchini in your garden, try making candy!
- Poorman's Crab Cakes. These are made just like crabcakes, only there is no crab to be found! They taste surprisingly similar- and this is coming from someone who grew up on fresh from the water Maryland crabcakes!
- Zucchini Pancakes. These are sort of like potato pancakes- zucchini, eggs and a little bit of flour mixed and fried up in a pan.
With a little imagination you can think of many new ways to enjoy fresh zucchini all summer long without getting sick of eating the same old thing everyday. Many of the recipes above can be found on my personal blog, including the poorman's crabcakes, pancakes, and both the chocolate and garlic and herb breads.