There is always a variety of different plants growing in my garden each spring but only a few are as much fun as growing Zucchini which makes it a favorite with home gardeners everywhere. A healthy zucchini plant can produce a huge harvest each year, and many people end up trying to give away their extra zucchini because they have so much of it.
There are a couple different growth habits; you can grow either bush or vining zucchini. The bush varieties are usually more popular in the home garden because the amount of space that they take up versus the vining varieties that can easily take over your garden. There are some tricks that you can utilize while growing vining varieties that can help with space concerns. You can conserve space by using vertical gardening. You can train the vines up a trellis with the right amount of diligence and hard work. I have learned that Zucchini just wants to grow and will keep you with plenty of fresh produce.
There are several different shapes and colors of zucchini to choose from when it comes to growing in your home garden. There are varieties that resemble gourds, cannonballs, space ships and all deliver in an outstanding flavor.
Zucchini is a very versatile vegetable that can be used either raw or cooked. You can even use zucchini in baked goods, like bread or muffins. They are very high in vitamins A and C, manganese and fiber.
Starting from Seed
Zucchini can be sown directly in the garden or you can start seed indoors. A popular belief is that Zucchini does not do well when transplanted but I have had great success with starting seeds indoors and transplanting. It is best to start your zucchini seedlings indoors about 3-4 weeks before your last frost date and it is best to transplant soon as Zucchini grows very fast. Zucchini plants also produce very long roots, so start your seeds in small pots that are several inches deep and be very careful not to break the roots when you transplant. The seeds should be planted about 1 inch below the surface of your potting soil.
Because each plant will give you several fruits throughout the season, you really don’t need that many plants. Three or four is usually enough for a family. If you are anything like me, you are sure to be overrun with zucchini and squash. I usually plant between 10-20 plants all around the garden to insure that I will get a good harvest. Keep the number of plants you want in mind when you start your seeds.
Zucchini is a vegetable that needs 6+ hours of sunlight so make sure to plant your zucchini in the sunniest part of the garden. Once you have picked the spot for your zucchini, prepare your garden area by digging the soil thoroughly so that it’s loose. To protect the roots, you should loosen the soil at least 6 inches deep. Mix in compost or aged manure, for these heavy-feeding plants. Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep, with about 6 seeds to a small hill if you are using the hill method then thin to 2-3 plants per hill. If you are planting in a raised bed, I have had great success with having 4-5 plants per 4 square feet. They do not seem to mind being close together and it also helps with keeping the weeds down.
Water your zucchini frequently and don’t let them completely dry out, especially once they start to set fruit. Give them a good soaking about once a week. Take care while watering to keep the water off the leaves as much as you can to reduce any problems with fungus or mildew.
Once the plants have grown to a decent size, their broad leaves will help keep the area weed-free by shading out invading plants. To keep your vines thriving, give them a good doze of fertilizer each month of the summer. Once the plant reaches maturity, it will start sending off flowers in order to produce fruit. In my experience the plant produces male flowers first to see if there are pollinators around, then later produces the female flowers which set the fruit. It easy to tell the male and female flowers apart because of the anatomy of the flower as seen below.
You can control the amount of fruit you get from each vine by picking the extra blossoms off once a few zucchini have begun to form. If left to themselves, a zucchini vine will keep on producing all through the summer until the weather gets too cold. The blossoms don’t have to go to waste either. Add them to a summer salad for some color. They’re edible and tasty.
Zucchini generally isn’t considered a container-friendly vegetable, but I have been the person to try no matter the common consensus. Any vegetable can be grown in a container if given the proper care and the nutrient dense soil that it needs. With that being said, there are a few varieties that will do better in containers versus a raised bed or traditional row garden. There are a few varieties that grow in a fairly compact bush that would work in a large container. Little Gem or Eight-Ball form bushes with fruit in the middle instead of long vines, and work fine. Your container should be 2 to 3 feet across, and at least 3 feet deep. Just remember this, gardening is an adventure and anything is possible so be creative, think outside of the box and find what works best for you.
Pests and Diseases
There are several pests you need to watch for when growing zucchini. When it comes to insects, Striped Cucumber Beetles, Squash bugs and Squash Vine Borers are your worst enemies. The beetles are fairly obvious on the leaves and blossoms and can be picked off by hand. The best organic way to deal with zucchini pests is the hand pick method but if you insist on using a spray of some kind, then I would recommend a soapy water spray with some Neem oil. If you are really struggling with beetles, you may want to even cover your young plants with a light sheet of mesh netting until the blossoms form. You need to remove it though, or your plants won’t get pollinated. It is rather simple to hand pollinate the blossoms to ensure your harvest. I simple take the male flower off the plant, peel the petals back to expose the stamen and then using painting type method rub the stamen of the male flower all around inside of the female flower.
The vine borers are hard to deal with because they dig into the stalk, making them very hard to detect until your plant is already dying. You can cut into the stalk (along the length, not across) and pick out the insects, which may or may not kill the plant anyway. If you bury the cut portion, it may heal and even grow new roots.
For diseases, you need to watch for wilt and powdery mildew. Bacterial wilt can be spread by cucumber beetles, which is another reason to control those insect pests. If your plants develop wilt, there is little you can do. The leaves will turn yellow, and wilt right to the ground. It can happen practically overnight. Pull up the plants before others get infected.
The other threat is powdery mildew, which looks like powdery dust on the leaves of the plants. It thrives in humidity, so do your best not to wet the leaves during watering. Also, water the plants early in the morning so any water on the leaves can dry before nightfall. You can spray the plants with a fungicide as soon as you see the powdery spots. The effected leaves will eventually yellow and drop off.
Harvest and Storage
And while it might be tempting to let your zucchini grow really large, the best flavor comes with the smaller fruit. Large ones start to get woody, and the seeds are getting hard inside as well. Pick them around 6 to 10 inches long. They will grow quite quickly, so plan on checking the vines every couple of days.
It’s almost inevitable that one or two zucchinis will be missed, and you will discover a huge one growing in a corner somewhere. You can still use it, but it will likely work best grated in a baked recipe (like muffins or zucchini bread).
Handle the fruit carefully once you’ve picked them off the vine. The skin is very thin and it can get scratched or bruised easily. Zucchinis don’t hold their flavor very long after picking. You can store them in the fridge but should use them up within a week.
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