A chaotic plant that romps and sprawls around gardens producing sweet and juicy fruit along the way. Sometimes they appear, as if by magic, growing in compost heaps where seeds often find their way into kitchen scraps. Zucchini are another plant that is loved by kids thanks to the seemingly inexhaustible yield of fruits that pop up almost over night for weeks on end. You can also cook the male flowers which will score points at the kitchen table. Growing Zucchini is pretty easy and they seem to turn out fruit almost faster than they can be eaten – have your recipe books on standby!
Companions Sweet corn, beans, peas.
Quantity 1 plant per 2 people
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Zephyr is a bi-color hybrid Zucchini – yellow with green slightly swollen tips. Harvest when about finger to a full hand in length.
Cocozelle heirloom variety with long cylindrical fruits that have light green ribs and darker stripes between them. Can be harvested as a zucchini when small - say a finger to a full hand in length. If allowed to continue growing they will ripen into marrows that are great stuffed.
Black Beauty heirloom variety with cylindrical, dark green fruit that are best harvested when about a full hand in length. Skins are smooth and easy to see on plants as they ripen – means you are less likely to grow any unwanted marrows!.
October to February. Sow seeds about 4 weeks before you plan on planting them.
Zucchini, like tomatoes and eggplants cannot handle any frost at all so wait until all risk of frost in your area has passed – this normally means anytime after Labour Day – before you plant your seedlings in the garden. In colder parts of the country you may find you have to wait until December.
A place in the sun is best for ripening the prolific fruits. Ideally this should coincide with sufficient space for the scampering stems to run around and pop up large, coarse toothed leaves. Zucchini can be ‘steered’ in an appropriate direction once they get going but are often placed at corners or edges of beds so they are less likely to overpower smaller, slower growing vegetables nearby.
The compost heap is often the best place for these gross feeders thanks to their insatiable appetite for rich nutrients, they also love a slightly moist, cool soil to help generate sufficient moisture for all those leaves during the hotter parts of the day. In your garden you will do best if you can replicate these conditions. I dig a round hole about the size or one or two buckets and fill it with rotted horse manure, seaweed, compost, chicken poo, sheep pellets – whatever I have to hand – mixing with the garden soil as I go. I slightly over-fill the hole so that it ends up like a gently pregnant mound.
Zucchini seeds are best popped into a peat pot (around a finger length in height) of seed compost and put on a windowsill, in a cold frame or in a greenhouse to get a head start on the cooler weather of early spring.
Soaking seeds in a glass of water overnight before you plant improves germination. Generally, it is a good idea to plant two seeds per pot and then select the stronger of the two when they have developed a pair of leaves (just pinch out the weaker one at soil level). A good tip is to place seeds lengthwise on their sides just at the soil's surface, this stops a small hole at the tip of the seed from getting blocked and preventing moisture form entering to start germination.
Unless you are planning to give them away as presents or plant swaps, only sow a few seeds every couple of weeks so that you stagger your crop - otherwise you may end up with a Zucchini mountain.
If you are buying seedlings then go for specimens that are well-rooted and not lying around all over the place.
Each plant will easily cover several metres so either plant here and there around the garden where space and opportunity allow or plant in a large bed allowing a space that is at least a stride by a stride per Zucchini seedling. Just make a hole as deep as your pot and pop the seedling in before back-filling and gently firming the soil around it. Water well.
Water your plants as they start to explore their territory. Mulch heavily around the stem of the plant where its roots are concentrated. If any trailing Zucchini start to get too rampant then you can cut stems back to stop them taking over your garden.
Some years the harvest can start earlier than others – delays can come from colder springs causing an early lack of pollinating bees.
Zucchini taste sweetest and have the best texture when they are about the length of your hand. Take care not to damage stems when you harvest – the easiest way is to take a sharp knife and cut through the thick stem that connects the fruit to the main stem. This should leave about a fingertip length of stem attached to the Zucchini. Keep picking and the plant will keep producing. If you leave your Zucchini too long then they’ll turn into marrows – which can be nice, depends on your taste. Always good for a spot of chutney!
Towards the end of summer zucchini often develop a grey, ash-like coating to their leaves. This is powdery mildew and its spread is often due to humidity, poor air circulation or irregular moisture levels. This can mean the end of fruitful fun if not promptly addressed. Remove any leaves as soon as you see the first signs to slow the spread and buy some time. You can spray powdery mildew with Baking soda spray but, given the size of a zucchini plant, this can be impractical.