Is there anything tastier than fresh zucchini?
Ask me two years ago, and I would have said yes, there is. Absolutely everything. Everything is tastier than zucchini.
As a self-proclaimed zucchini hater, I funneled every energy I had into not eating zucchini. I absolutely hated it.
And then we started a garden, and my husband convinced me to plant just a few zucchini seeds.
“We can feed it to the chickens,” he said. “It grows so quickly, and there’s so much of it…it will be a great source of free food.”
Of course, that was enough to sell me. But I later learned that if you’re growing something in your garden, you are more or less obligated to at least try it yourself.
Enter the next stage of my life, in which I experimented with all of the different ways you can eat zucchini. I sliced it up and ate it raw, mixed it into salads, sauteed it, shredded it, made zucchini bread, zucchini cakes (my personal favorite), and tossed small pieces into pasta.
The end result?
I like zucchini.
I love it.
If you’re not convinced to give growing zucchini a try, hopefully this article will change your mind. Not only is it incredibly easy to grow, but it’s also a bountiful producer, which will easily make it the star of your backyard garden.
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What are the Health Benefits of Zucchini?
Let’s get real. Zucchini is one of those foods that my mom always told me to eat just because it was “so good for me.” As a kid, that didn’t mean a lot. As a health-conscious adult, I’m always trying to squeeze more veggies into my diet, and as a very low-calorie vegetable, zucchini is a great option.
Here are some of the many miracles this squash can perform:
- Improves digestion
- Lowers blood sugar
- Encourages healthy circulation
- Improves ocular health
- Increases energy levels
- Aids with weight loss
- Improves adrenal and thyroid function
- Increases levels of antioxidants
What’s not to love?
Best Varieties of Zucchini
Zucchini is closely related to all other types of squash, like pumpkins and winter squash. However, zucchini, as a summer squash, grows best in the hot days of midsummer, producing a bountiful crop that will be more than enough for you and your family.
This plant originated in Central America and quickly spread to the rest of the world. It does well in warm weather, growing to an average height of two and a half feet. There are dozens of types of zucchini that you can grow, giving you plenty of options to choose from.
That being said, there are some varieties that outperform others. Some are more productive, while others are more resistant to pests and disease. Check the disease and pest resistance whenever you are able to do so, as those with a higher level of natural resistance – not necessarily those that were engineered to be resistant – tend to produce longer and better.
Some suggestions for you to try are:
- Green Machine
- Summer Green Tiger
- Italian Ribbed
- Bush Baby
- Patio Star
- Round De Nice
- Black Beauty
Where Can Zucchini Be Grown?
Zucchini can be grown in just about any location, and it doesn’t require soil that is excessively nutrient-dense. In fact, we have grown zucchini in what was essentially pure sand and while the crop wasn’t as great as it could have been, it did still produce.
That being said, this plant prefers soil that is rich in organic matter. Your soil pH should be around 6.5. If you’re not close to that, your plants will have trouble setting quality fruit. Consider purchasing and using a soil test kit to make sure your levels are appropriate before planting.
Be careful about adding too much nitrogen all at once, however, as too much nitrogen will cause your plants to put on a lot of green foliage at the expense of good fruit production. Use a balanced, organic fertilized like aged compost from over the winter months and test your soil regularly to make sure it’s balanced.
How to Start Zucchini from Seed
Zucchini is very easy to start from seed, so there’s no need to start it indoors ahead of time. That being said, you can – just keep in mind that the seedlings are very fragile and you will need to exercise caution when transplanting.
Otherwise, you can just direct sow the plant in the garden. You can direct sow in May or June (as long as the danger of frost has passed) and you should expect a harvest in just a few short months. If you start your seeds indoors, do so about a month before you intend to plant outdoors.
Keep in mind that zucchini does not tolerate the cold or a frost well. Don’t plant too early – fruits that form during cold weather will have pitted skin. If you accidentally plant too early – or have an unexpected cold snap – you can use row covers to protect your plants when the temperature dips below 65 degrees. Using row covers in the fall can also help to extend your harvest.
Zucchini grows best when the soil is above 55 degrees. If you live in a cold location, like I do, you can warm the soil up more quickly by laying down a thick sheet of black plastic. I cannot tell you enough how well this technique works – I use black plastic around my squashes, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant. Not only does it keep the soil toasty all year, but it also cuts down substantially on my weeding.
If you live in a warmer area, you may have to lift the plastic when you plant. I just cut holes into it and let the plants grow around it.
How to Grow Zucchini
Make sure your planting site has plenty of sun. Your plants will need a minimum of six to eight hours of full sun each day. Too little light can cause long, lanky plants with reduced yields. Poor pollination can also result from an improper planting site, as pollinators prefer to hang out in sunny areas.
When you plant, do so in hills. A hill is a cluster of plants that are grown close together. When zucchini plants are grown, the squash flowers need to be pollinated multiple times, and each flower is only open for a day. Therefore, having multiple plants near each other will increase the likelihood of pollination – which will increase your overall yields.
You can also grow zucchini in succession. Zucchini grows quickly and is ready to harvest just sixty days from planting in most cases. Therefore, you can start plants two or three times per season, depending on where you live, so that you will have a bountiful harvest throughout the summer.
When you plant, use a small trowel to dig a hole about ½ inch under the soil. You can also simply press the seed into the soil. A technique that has worked well for me is pressing the seeds lightly into the soil and then covering them with a thin layer of aged compost.
Caring For Your Zucchini Plant
Add a balanced fertilizer once a week. Use organic compost or a premixed product like this one. It will help keep your zucchini plants pushing out tons of fruit.
Water your zucchini regularly, but evenly. Zucchini problems are commonly caused by poor soil moisture levels. Do not allow the plants to dry out completely between waterings, as this can cause a decline in fruit production. Zucchini plants require lots of even soil moisture throughout the entire growing season.
Your plants will need about an inch of water each week. You can add mulch to help the soil retain and conserve moisture. Remember, the best way to water your plants is from the ground up by using soaker hoses – not overhead sprayers as this can lead to fungal growth.
If your zucchini plants are having trouble setting fruit – usually indicated by tons of blossoms but no zucchinis – pollination is likely to blame. Consider growing pollinator-attracting plants like these near your garden, but if that’s not enough, you might need to manually pollinate the plants.
You can do this by using your fingertip or a paintbrush to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female ones. There’s more information on how to do that here.
Zucchini Pests and Diseases
There are some zucchini pests and diseases you need to be aware of, too. Here are the most common ones, as well as how you can treat them.
Squash Vine Borer
This pest is a day-flying moth with a black and red body. While the adults aren’t dangerous themselves, the larvae produce extensive damage. These creatures feed inside the main stem of the plant, hollowing it out before it eventually dies. As a result, you will see sawdust-like waste below a hole at the base of the plant.
To prevent these pests, wrap the lower piece of the stem with a bit of aluminum foil. This will prevent the bugs from boring into your precious plants. You can also use floating row covers if that’s easier, but remember to remove them when the plants come into bloom.
Powdery mildew is something I seem to struggle with in my garden practically every year. This unpleasant fungal disease causes a powdery coating to appear on your leaves. It’s mostly an aesthetic issue but it can cause poor phothsytenhtiss and a decline in production if left untreated.
The biggest piece of advice I’ve heard to prevent powdery mildew is to space your plants far apart. While this helps your foliage dry off and provides plenty of air flow, I’ve struggled with the disease even when only growing one plant. You can make your own natural fungicidal remedy to treat it, which I’ve found to be super effective. Here’s the recipe. <link>
Squash bugs are voracious predators, attacking plants with no mercy. These insects suck out the juices of the plant with their needle-like mouths, causing your leaves to yellow and brown. The easiest way to eliminate these pests is to check your plants for them each day. You may be able to detect the small eggs. Unfortunately, squash bugs are resistant to most pesticides, but there are several natural remedies you can try. <link>
Blossom End Rot
Blossom end rot is a common disease that affects tomatoes and peppers alike. This disease causes the end of the fruit to form a dark canker. This is caused by a calcium deficiency but can also come about if you practice inconsistent watering habits. If there’s no water, the plant can’t access calcium, and blossom end rot results.
Add a calcium supplement or consider planting your zucchini plants with a few ground up eggshells to supply calcium directly to the planting site.
Bacterial wilt is more common on cucumbers, but if you have zucchini growing near your cucumber plants, you may have an issue with this disease, too. It’s spread by the cucumber beetle and causes healthy plants to wilt and die. Check for beetles regularly – you will probably have to manually remove them.
How to Harvest Zucchini
You’ll know that your zucchini fruits are ready to harvest when they are about four to five inches in length. You can certainly allow them to grow larger – I’ve had some that weighed well over ten pounds – but the fruits won’t taste as good and they will be filled with seeds. Remember, the more often you harvest the fruits, the more it will produce.
When you harvest, cut the stem with a pair of pruning shears or scissors. Try not to yank or tear the fruit off the vine, as this can cause damage to the plant.
Alternative Methods of Growing Zucchini
If growing zucchini in the garden plot or your raised bed is not the right choice for you, there are plenty of other ways you can grow zucchini at home.
Growing Zucchini Indoors or in Containers
If your growing season is short, you may wonder how you can keep the bu mper crop of zucchini going all year. Growing zucchini indoors is definitely possible, but can be a bit challenging for beginners!
To start, place a zucchini seed in a pot with some seed starting mix. You can also make your own using peat moss and vermiculite . Dampen the mixture and then place the pots in filtered sunlight. The temperature should be kept between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Your seeds should germinate in about a week and can be transplanted in a month.
Because plants grown in containers have limited access to nutrients, you may want to fertilize it once a week. You can use compost tea or any other organic fertilizer. Water whenever the top of the soil feels dry to the touch. Your plants should be ready to harvest when they are three to four inches long.
Growing Zucchini Vertically
Growing zucchini on a trellis is a great way to save space for people who are gardening in crowded or urban conditions – or even people who are just looking for a unique approach to gardening.
Here’s what you need to do.
Start your plants from seed if growing in this method. Follow all the other growing guidelines we detailed above, including those related to watering and sol quality. You can use a vertical garden system like this one, or you can grow your zucchini on the ground and allow them to travel up a trellis by following this method. If you are growing in a pocket, you will want to plant only one seed in every other pocket – this will give your plants plenty of room to sprawl.
If you’re growing vertically, you may need to put some extra effort into making sure your plants stay well watered. They should pollinate just fine on their own, but again, you may need to help out with this.
How to Cook Zucchini
If you’re planning to chow down on some delicious zucchini, here are the dietary facts you should be aware of. One cup of zucchini contains zero fat and is high in both water and fiber. It has significant amounts of the following nutrients:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
It’s also high in phytonutrients that help reduce inflammation and promote good health. One zucchini has only 14 calories and .2 grams of fiber, .5 grams of carbohydrates, and .3 grams of protein.
Not too shabby.
Now, what to do with all of that zucchini? Here are some of my FAVORITE recipes.
Well, there you have it! Everything you need to know about growing zucchini. If you have any questions as you get started, be sure to leave a comment to ask the community.
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