Zucchini is one of the most prolific producers of the summer vegetable garden. Using heirloom seeds allows you to save the seed for a sustainable harvest year after year.
Heirloom seeds differ from hybrids because they produce the same characteristics year after year. The most common heirloom variety of zucchini is the black beauty. This zucchini can be picked within 50 days of sowing the seeds. It is a shiney, greenish black and should be picked with it is 6 to 8 inches long.
Since Zucchini (cucurbita pepo, cucurbitaceae) is one of the most prolific producers, planting no more than 3-5 plants per person that will be eating them will be enough have this vegetable all summer long. This summer squash produces prolifically from early summer until the first frost. Zucchini is commonly green, but yellow varieties also exist. It should be planted after the last frost day in the spring and is usually harvested within 60 days.
Zucchini is sensitive to cold temperatures so be sure to plant seeds one week after the last expected frost date. Zucchini grown from seed will produce just as quickly as a transplanted plant so save the expense and grow from seed.
Like most annual garden vegetables, zucchini likes rich well-drained, loamy soil. Squash is a heavy feeder, so be sure to add copious amounts of compost to the soil where it is planted. Plant it in hills of 2 or 3 seeds that are 3 feet apart.
During the growing season the plants should receive about one inch of water per week. If possible, water the zucchini using drip hoses and do not handle them when they are wet. Mulch heavily and remove any weeds that escape through the mulch which helps prevent many of the diseases that affect zucchini.
A number of pests can damage these plants. Squash vine borers look like one inch long white caterpillars. They tunnel into the vine and can go undetected until the vine dies back. To combat this, watch for entry hole and for yellow sawdust droppings at the base of the plant. If this happens, slit the stem and remove the borer inside then hill the soil up around the stem wound so the squash can re-root.
To prevent future infestations, be on the lookout for the orange and black adult wasp like moth that the squash borer becomes. It will lay its eggs between April and July. At that time tiny red and orange eggs can be located at the base of the stem and just below the surface of the soil. Rub and destroy these when they are detected.
Squash bugs (stink bugs) feed on the leaves and cause them to wilt and blacken. Hand-pick these bugs and destroy their red-brown egg clusters on the underside of the leaves. You can also trap the adults under boards near the squash plants. Lay the boards out at night and pick up the bugs that hide underneath them in the morning. Radishes, nasturtiums and French marigolds planted near the zucchini will also help repel squash bugs.
Striped or spotted cucumber beetles are one inch long black headed bugs with green or yellow wings. They don’t usually bother zucchini but they carry bacterial wilt a problem they normally occurs in early spring. If your early planted zucchini is affected, remove and burn the diseased plants, then plant new seed and they should do fine.
When zucchini is 6-8 inches long, remove it by gently twisting it off the stem. Smaller plants are tenderer so try not to let the zucchini get too large. If frosts threaten cover the plants with plastic or old bedsheets to protect them. Plants exposed to frost can potentially be rescued by spraying them with water before the sun hits the plants. Any plants are blackened by frost should be pulled out and composted.
Leave zucchini on the vine until it is completely ripened. This usually takes 2-3 weeks after you would normally harvest them for eating. Once they are ripe, cut the squash from the vine and let them sit for 4-6 weeks. Cut them open and harvest the seeds.
Rinse the harvested seeds with water and set them out to dry in a cool dry area. Once dry, screen them to remove excess material. Store the seeds in a cool dark place with low humidity. The seeds will keep for 3-4 years if correctly dried and stored properly.