Zucchini, also known as courgettes, is one of the most generous and tasty vegetables you can grow in your yard.
Once you know how to grow zucchini, just one plant can provide enough tasty squash for the whole season – and don’t forget you can use the flowers too, an added treat.
Zucchini can be eaten at any stage of their development, though they taste best when harvested small rather than if you wait until they grow to mammoth proportions.
When to harvest zucchini
The key to successful harvesting is to pick often. Leave zucchini on the plant too long and they become tough and stringy inside, with a hard, unpalatable shell
Once fruits are starting to appear, keep an eye on them because they are quick-growing and can change from a small, juicy treat to a massive 'Captain Caveman' club almost overnight.
It is always worth adding zucchini to your vegetable garden ideas because they come in so many interesting colors, shapes and sizes, from dark green to bright yellow, with flecked skins, long and thin and completely circular.
Not only that, but compact varieties are ideal for vegetable garden containers and small vegetable gardens, while varieties that grow as vines can be trained up a vegetable garden trellis, adding vertical interest to your plot.
How to harvest zucchini
Harvest zucchini when the squashes are large enough to take – they are usually at their sweetest and best when they are 5-7 inches long.
Round varieties of zucchini should be harvested when they are roughly the size of a billiard ball (which is why one variety is called 'Eight Ball').
Zucchini is easy to harvest – simply sever them from the plant at the point where they narrow into a stalk.
Using pruners or a sharp garden knife is the easiest way of getting under the leaves and onto the stalk. This is better than pulling them away, which can damage the vegetable and the plant.
Why harvest regularly
The important thing to remember is that the more you harvest zucchini, the more squash the plant will produce.
For this reason, it is important to check plants every few days, looking carefully for new squashes you may have missed.
If one is accidentally left to grow large, the plant will think its fruiting job is done and not produce anymore.
Harvesting zucchini flowers
Zucchini plants produce male and female flowers, so they will self-pollinate and you can get a good crop with just one plant.
The flowers are edible and considered a delicacy when filled with cream cheese or crab, coated in a light tempura batter, and fried.
If you wish to harvest zucchini flowers to use in the kitchen, take them just before they are about to fall off naturally, but make sure you don’t remove too many from each plant or you won’t get a good crop of squashes.
You can also use them still attached to tiny zucchinis for extra taste.
Like all homegrown vegetables, zucchinis taste best eaten straight away.
But if you have a glut, you can store them in the salad box of your fridge, or in a perforated bag in the fridge, for up to a week.
Zucchini can also be washed, dried, cut into one-inch cubes, and added to the freezer, you can also slice them thinly and pickle them or add them to chutneys.
A marrow is basically a zucchini that has been left to grow large on the plant.
Their skin becomes tough, but there are lots of squash recipes they can adapt to.
I like to cut them in half lengthways, or into slices, hollow out the inside, discard the seeds and mix the removed flesh with cheese, grains, onions and peppers, or savory mince.
Fill the hollow halves with the mixture and bake in the oven until soft and heated through. Delicious!
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Ruth is a regular contributor to Homes and gardens. She is horticulturally trained and has qualifications from the Royal Horticultural Society. Ruth spends her working days writing about and photographing the gardening jobs that our readers should be carrying out each week and month, and tests many new products that arrive on the gardening market.
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