Zucchini (Cucurbita Pepo) is a popular edible for home gardeners as it's easy to grow and produces an abundance of food on a single plant. Zucchini can also be grown in pots or grow bags, so it makes a fantastic high-yield option for urban gardens.
Creating an abundant garden that you can share with your friends, family and neighbours is a rewarding and fulfilling way to garden, and in this blog, Sustainable Holly will share her top tips for growing this delicious veggie.
Why grow zucchini?
Zucchini is quick-growing and can be used to make a wide variety of meals. Zucchini is a great base crop to grow, allowing you to create more meals straight from your garden. Below are just a few reasons to grow your own zucchini at home:
- Easy to grow
- Prolific production on each plant
- High in vitamin A & C
- Rich in antioxidants
- Can promote healthy digestion
- Produce edible flowers
- Can be eaten raw or cooked
- Can be used for sweet or savoury dishes
- Absorb flavour easily
- Generous crops for gifting, swapping or trading
Popular heirloom zucchini varieties
‘Black Beauty’ - Most popular heirloom variety with dark green skin. Prolific, quick-growing, ready to harvest in 7-9 weeks.
‘Long Florence’ - Italian heirloom with green ribbed skin. Grows larger flowers perfect for stuffing. Ready to harvest in 6-8 weeks.
‘Fordhook’ - Classic variety with smooth green skin with light speckles. High yield. Ready to harvest in 6-8 weeks.
‘Costata Romenesco’ - Italian heirloom variety with pale green ribs and speckles. Looks like a star when sliced. Quick growing, ready to harvest in 6 weeks.
‘Lebanese’ - Pale green or ‘grey’ variety. Sweet flavour. Best picked small. 8 weeks to harvest.
‘Golden’ - Bright yellow/golden variety. Great for summer BBQs or baking. Ready to harvest in 9 weeks.
‘Ronde de Nice’ - French heirloom variety. Small round fruits with green skin. Great for stuffing. Bruise easily so you don’t see these available at the shops often. Ready to harvest in 8 weeks.
How to grow zucchini
Zucchini is a warm-loving plant that can be damaged by frost. It may be best to plant your seeds in small pots or seed trays until your last frost has passed. Otherwise, zucchinis grow best sown directly into the soil. Plant your seeds as per the packet instruction as each variety and climate will have different growing suggestions.
Choose a full sun location with at least six hours of sunlight a day.
Once your seedlings have 4-5 leaves and the likelihood of frost has passed, plant your seedlings in free-draining soil with plenty of compost. If you are growing zucchini in garden beds, create small mounds of soil to plant your zucchini seedlings on top of. Plant each seedling at least 1m apart.
Care and maintenance
Mulch around your plants to protect the soil and retain moisture. Water your zucchini at the base to avoid getting the leaves wet, as zucchini can be prone to powdery mildew. Watering in the morning can also help to prevent this, as the leaves will have time to dry out and not sit wet for too long. If you do see white powdery mildew, remove the affected leaves and make up an organic spray with a mix of 9 parts water to 1 part milk. Spray this over the zucchini leaves.
It can be beneficial to remove the older leaves at the base of the plant to increase airflow and prevent moisture from sitting around too long. Use sharp and clean secateurs to reduce the spread of any diseases.
Some plants may need staking or support as they grow.
Pollination and fruiting
Zucchini produce both male and female flowers on each plant for pollination. Our bees do a fantastic job at pollinating, so planting flowers nearby will help to encourage plenty of pollinators to your garden - you can read more about this in Holly's 5 Ways to Attract Pollinators Blog.
If your zucchini plants are not reaching maturity and seem to shrivel and die prematurely, this may be due to a lack of pollination. You can manually pollinate your flowers by using a small paintbrush to dust the pollen of the male flower’s stamen (single flower with no baby zucchini forming) to the female flower Stigma (flower with a baby zucchini at the base). This can help boost your success rate and grow more zucchini. This can also be achieved by picking a male flower, removing the petals, and using the pollen covered stamen to transfer pollen to the female flowers. If you do notice a pollination issues, be sure to plant lots more flowers in between your plants to attract more bees.
Another reason your fruit may be dying off could be due to blossom end rot. This will cause the end of the zucchini to go brown and start to rot before reaching maturity. This is due to a number of factors such as lack of calcium in the soil, feeder roots being cut or damaged, and most commonly, inconstant watering. During hot, dry periods, it is important to keep a regular watering schedule. An Automatic Tap Timer will come in very useful. Mulching will also help retain moisture.
Harvest your zucchini when they are small (15-20cm long) and often. This will encourage your plant to produce more and more fruit. Use sharp secateurs to avoid accidentally ripping the entire plant out or snapping off part of your zucchini.
Zucchini grow very quickly once the plant is established, so you may need to check every day or every other day for new produce.
If you want to harvest zucchini flowers for eating, choose the male flowers. Otherwise, you will be reducing the number of zucchini you get from each plant. Be sure to leave some male flowers for pollination or harvest your flowers after manually pollinating the female flowers.
Cooking and Preserving
There are so many ways to use zucchini and with just one plant, you will have plenty of opportunities to try many of them out! Below are just a few of the many ways to cook and preserve your abundant zucchini harvests.
- ‘Zoodles’ or zucchini noodles made using a spiraliser. Great for salads or as a replacement for noodles or pasta
- Grilled slices or strips
- Sliced in stirfry or curries
- Frozen in chunks to thicken smoothies
- Fresh in salads
- Marinated fresh or grilled
- Pickled or fermented
- Chutney or Relish
- Stuffed whole
- ‘Zucchini Boats’ - Cut in half lengthways, scoop out the inside and stuff, then bake
- Zucchini bread
- Zucchini fritters
- Cakes and slices
- Dehydrated chips
- Zucchini fries
- Summer rolls
- Lasagne sheet replacement
- Pizza topping
White Chocolate and Raspberry Zucchini Brownies - Sustainable HollyIngredients:
- 2 cups grated zucchini – approx 2 medium-sized zucchini
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup raw sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 cups organic plain flour
- 3/4 cup raspberries
- 1 block/180g white chocolate (or whichever chocolate you like) chopped into small chunks
1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease a baking pan or dish (roughly 28cm x20cm).
- In a bowl mix sugar, flour and oil until combined.
- Grate the zucchini and add to the bowl, along with baking soda and vanilla extract.
- Sprinkle salt over and stir until it becomes a moist batter. The mix will start off quite dry but keep mixing and the zucchini will release its moisture to form a batter.
- Once it has started to become a sticky batter, mix in your chocolate chunks.
- Add half the raspberries and stir through gently.
- Pour the mix into the greased pan and press in the remaining raspberries.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a baking skewer comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares and enjoy!