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Harvesting the Perfect Zucchini for the Home and Market Garden

Our garden is the farm's pride and joy. We love spending time in it, and preparing meals out of our fresh produce.

harvesting-zucchini

Every year, we always make sure to grow at least 20 zucchini plants for our family. This may seem a little extreme for a small family, but we put zucchini in everything: soups, stir-fries, cakes, muffins, smoothies, sauces, bread, kabobs, steamed rice, banana ice cream, and more. Our favorite variety is ‘Black Beauty’ which grows well and produces lots of delicious zucchinis with a nice texture, but there are countless varieties to choose from.

Harvesting zucchinis at the right time is important to get the best tasting zucchini with the highest nutritional value. Most zucchinis are best harvested at 15cm to 20cm (6-8 inches) long when they have a rich colour and they are nice and firm. It is important to harvest them regularly to encourage more to grow.

Zucchinis can be harvested by either twisting or cutting them off, and they can be stored in the fridge for fresh eating, and frozen or dehydrated for long-term storage.

When To Harvest Zucchini Squash

Zucchinis are a fast-growing vegetable that produce prodigiously from maturity until the first fall frost. Once your zucchini plants flower, you will probably have some zucchini ready in a couple of days.

Days to Maturity

A zucchini plant’s ‘Days to Maturity’ is measured from germination (when seedlings first emerge) until the flowers start to form. Since zucchinis grow really fast, you should have a few ready to harvest shortly after the first flowers appear.

Zucchinis grow very fast, especially in hot weather with adequate moisture, so check your plants every couple of days to harvest them at their peak. Here’s how to tell if a zucchini is ready to be picked:

Size: The ideal size for most zucchini varieties is 15cm to 20cm (6-8 inches). Certain varieties, such as the Romanesco, can grow to an impressive 40cm (16inches) and still remain tender. Round zucchinis are best harvested at 7cm to 10cm (3-4 inches) across. This is the preferred size for eating fresh, frying, or selling at a farmer’s market.

Zucchinis can, however, be harvested at any size. Small zucchinis with the flower still attached is a delicacy in many culinary dishes.

For our own kitchen, we often let our zucchinis grow to about 30cm (12inches) long and about 7cm (3inches) in diameter. At this point, we get a lot of food and the quality is still very good. The larger a zucchini grows, they become pithy with large, tough seeds and the nutritional quality decreases as it puts its energy into the seed production. The rind also becomes thick and tough on large zucchinis. That being said, we regularly miss a few zucchinis that grow to monstrous proportions, and we have eaten some that were 50cm (20inches) long and as big around as your arm that still had excellent flavour.

Colour: Zucchinis come in green, yellow, and white. Whichever variety you grow, the zucchini should have a bright, rich colour on the skin and stem when it is ready to harvest.

Texture: The perfect zucchini will feel heavy and solid, with a firm skin that can be punctured with your fingernail.

Zucchini skin is very delicate, especially on young ones, so handle them with care. Any marks or nicks will decrease their shelf life and reduce their quality at the market stand.

Harvest All Season Long

To get the most out of your plants, harvest the zucchinis regularly as this encourages the plant to produce new growth.

Harvest All Day Long

Unlike sensitive greens which quickly wilt in the afternoon sun, zucchinis are less prone to wilting and can be harvested at any time of the day. Avoid leaving them in direct sunlight and get them into the fridge as quickly as you can.

Harvesting Zucchinis and Frost

Frost is a killer for zucchini plants. A light frost may only nip the leaves, causing them to shrivel and curl, but it won’t take long until a hard frost kills off your crop. Pick all the zucchinis if frost is in the forecast.

A frost-nipped zucchini will appear to have a dark stain on the skin that is slightly transparent when help up to the light. The zucchini is still edible but it will have to be eaten right away as the frost damaged part will go soft and squishy.

Read More From Dengarden

Even if a zucchini was not damaged by the frost, the cold temperatures will often turn them hard and bitter.

How To Harvest Zucchinis

Zucchinis can be harvested by either twisting them off or by cutting the stem.

Twisting off zucchinis is our preferred method of harvesting. It is easy, does not require any tools, and is fun. Ideally, the stem will snap off a few inches above the zucchini. The downside is that sometimes part of the zucchini will snap off. Use any broken zucchinis right away as they won’t store very long.

To twist them off, take hold of the vegetable and firmly twist it off the stem. Some zucchinis cling aggressively to the plant so they will take a good hard twist. Make sure that you do not uproot the shallow roots of the plant in the process.

If you plan on selling at a farmers’ market, you might want to consider cutting the zucchinis off the plant to eliminate the chances of the zucchini being damaged. Simply cut the vine a few inches above the zucchini with a knife or pair of garden shears

You might want to wear a long sleeve shirt and gloves to protect yourself from the dense and scratchy foliage.

Did you know you can also eat zucchini blossoms?

harvesting-zucchini

Storing Zucchini

Storing your harvest is an important part of gardening. Zucchinis are easy to store and can be kept in the fridge for fresh eating or preserved for the winter.

Fresh In the Fridge

Put unwashed zucchini in the refrigerator, or make sure they are thoroughly dry if you decide to wash them as they won’t last very long in high moisture environments. Freshly harvested zucchini should last for a week or two in the fridge before the quality starts to decline.

Frozen

Chop, shred, or slice your zucchinis and put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer. When they are frozen solid, transfer them to an airtight container or freezer bag. It is important to freeze your zucchini on a flat tray first. Like most squash, zucchinis produce a sticky sap-like residue that it uses to heal itself, and if you freeze the zucchini in a bag or container, this residue will freeze together and you will have an indestructible mass of frozen zucchini.

Once thawed, the zucchini will become fairly squishy, but they work great in stir-fries, baking, smoothies, or sauces. Blending frozen zucchinis into your homemade mac-and-cheese sauce is a great way to make it a little healthier and the kids will still eat it.

Zucchinis will last in the freezer for about a year or until they become freezer burnt.

Dehydrated

Cut the zucchinis into 1cm (1/2 inch) thick slices and dehydrate according to your dehydrator's instructions. You can also dehydrate them in the oven.

Once dry, transfer it to an airtight container and keep it in a dark spot for up to a year. It is best to store dehydrated zucchini in small batches. Every time you open the container, moisture has the chance to get in and a little moisture could spoil a large batch of dried goods.

Dehydrated zucchini can be ground and added to baking (it's very good in biscuits), smoothies, cooked into the rice, or sprinkled on just about anything.

harvesting-zucchini

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Bellwether Farming

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