Zucchini is a type of summer squash grown in many home gardens. It is prolific and grows well for even inexperienced gardeners. In colder climates, zucchini is planted in early spring for a summer harvest. In warmer climates it is possible to plant a fall bumper crop.
About Growing Zucchini
Zucchini is a summer squash that grows best in warm temperatures. It produces a prodigious amount of long, green fruits that are edible even when they are very small. Some say they taste best when they are young and tender. If left to grow, they will become very large, often the size of a baseball bat. Allowing zucchini to grow this large reduces the number of fruits you get, as all the plant's energy is directed toward the huge squash.
When to Plant Zucchini
Zucchini seeds will not germinate in cold soil and so must be planted outdoors four weeks after the last frost. This gives the soil time to warm up. If you want an early start on your crop, start seeds indoors two weeks prior to the last frost of the season and transplant outdoors when the soil has warmed. Zucchini plants have a taproot that must not be disturbed during replanting, so starting indoors should only be done if you have a short growing season. Start your seeds in composting containers that you plant directly into the soil for best results. Transplant more zucchini than you think you'll need, as some are likely not to survive.
Caring for Zucchini Plants
Zucchini plants prefer acidic soil, but will grow well even in alkaline soils. Most soil benefits from digging in 2 or 3 inches of compost prior to planting. The compost feeds the plants and helps warm your soil. A simple soil test will tell you what amendments your soil needs. The tests are available from garden stores. Give your zucchini 1 inch of water per week if this moisture is not provided by rain. Water deeply, since zucchini plants have a long taproot.
Harvest and Storage of Zucchini
Harvest your zucchini when you have fruits of the desired size. Try picking some when they are finger-sized and very tender. Allow some to grow larger, to about 6 inches long, for slicing and other cooking uses. If you only have a few plants, you will get the most value from them by allowing the zucchini to grow to this size. Zucchini should be cut from the vine with a sharp knife to avoid damaging the plant. Zucchini is best eaten the day it's picked, but will last two or three days in the refrigerator crisper drawer. Try grating zucchini that doesn't get eaten and freezing it in 1-cup portions to add to soups, stews and breads out of season.