Zucchini is a regular feature in the backyard vegetable patch. Its delicate flavour spices up stews and soups, is an excellent addition to cakes and breads and it is super-easy to grow. In fact, zucchini is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in your home garden. Planted directly from seed you will be harvesting in around 45 to 55 days. If you prefer, you can use seedlings from punnets and be harvesting even earlier.
The ideal time to plant your seeds or seedlings is spring, however if you are running late it is OK to keep planting into December.
Growing from seed
Choose a very sunny part of the garden and mound up the soil to create a hill. Plant 6 or so of the large seeds as deep as your knuckle, say 2cm to 3 cm. Seeds take six to 10 days to germinate, but after that growth is rapid. Once the seeds have germinated wait a week or so and thin out to the strongest seedling. If you are planting several zucchini, space them around 70cm apart.
Zucchinis need a lot of sunshine, but are not very heavy feeders. Improve the soil with compost and manure, but avoid the use of high nitrogen fertilisers as this will encourage lots of leaf growth at the expense of the flowers and fruit. Mulch around plants to a depth of about 3-4cm to preserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. Water the plants deeply, letting the top of the soil dry out a bit between waterings. Water around the base of the plant only, not from above. This is important especially in cold climates where mildew can flourish on the leaves if water droplets sit on them for too long.
Zucchinis usually grow at least 15 leaves before flowering. Often the first flowers are male and will not produce fruit. Don’t worry though, the second blossoming will usually produce female flowers. A female flower has a small swelling at its base, while a male flower does not. If desired, pick male flowers for eating… they are great in salads or lightly braised with sweet peppers. If no fruit is set the reason may be that the growing zucchini was not pollinated properly. This condition could be caused by high humidity or a shortage of bees and butterflies. While easy to grow, all varieties of squash require a plentiful bee population for successful pollination. If in doubt, you can always hand pollinate, just brush the male flower over the female flower. Play some soft music while you do this and feel free to offer them a cigarette when you are done.
The older and bigger zucchini get, the tougher and less flavoursome they will be, so it’s best to harvest crops when they are small (about 15cm long). To harvest, cut the zucchini off using a small, sharp knife.
Plant disease problems are most common in hot and humid weather, powdery mildew being the main offender. Simply cut off badly affected leaves. You can also apply an organic spray to the whole plant. Mix up one part full cream milk to nine parts water in a spray bottle. Spray this all over the plant’s leaves every few days. If it rains, re-spray the plants. If powdery mildew gets really bad you sometimes have no choice but to pull out the plant.