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Easy-to-Grow Vegetables: Zucchini

Probably the easiest vegetable to grow in the garden is zucchini. As a matter of fact, it’s so prolific, that you’ll be trying to give it away! Zucchini is a member of the squash and pumpkin family; it is a type of summer squash.

Although it’s easiest to grow many vegetables from young plants, zucchini grows so readily that you can start with seeds. Just visit your local garden store and purchase a small packet of zucchini seeds for less than $2. The most popular variety of zucchini is black zucchini, which has a dark green skin and white flesh. Zucchini requires full sun. In other words, it needs at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. Zucchini are particularly sensitive to frost, so you should plant it after the last frost date in your geographic area. Very generally speaking, that’s early May in the U.S., about mid-spring.

You can plant zucchini in rows or mounds. If you plant the seeds in rows, plant them one inch deep and about two feet apart. Just dig a little hole with your finger, drop the seed in, cover it with about an inch of soil, then gently tamp down the soil. Rows should be at least two feet apart. If you choose to plant in mounds, create small hills that are about one foot high by two feet wide by two feet long; the hills should be about four feet apart. Plant about four to five seeds per hill. Again, plant the seeds about one inch deep and about two inches apart.

Water the seeds about every two or three days, especially until they germinate. You can adjust your watering schedule if it rains.

If you like, you can add mulch once plants are well-established to reduce weeds. But zucchini is so prolific, that a few small weeds probably pose no threat for nutrient competition whatsoever! But zucchini grows in a sprawling vine with very large heart-shaped leaves, so if you don’t want to dig through the leaves and vines to do a few minutes of weekly weeding, then using mulch is a good idea. But even if you don’t use mulch or do weekly weeding, the plants will probably be just fine. Mulch will encourage the plants to yield earlier and more abundantly--that is, if you really want zucchini coming out your ears! That’s because the roots are shallow.

You should harvest the vegetables when they’re about four to six inches long. The skin is slightly soft, completely edible, and contains most of the nutrients. The zucchini will be ready for harvest relatively soon after planting, in about one and one-half to two months. The plant has both male and female flowers, but only the female flowers produce vegetables. Some people even harvest the flowers. The female flowers, with a tiny fruit attached, are considered a delicacy that you can coat in batter and fry.

Zucchini wilts not in the face of hot weather. As a matter of fact, it will grow even faster in hot weather. They are usually ready to pick within four to eight days after flowers appear.

Zucchini skins scratch easily, so you should handle them with care when harvesting them. You should also use them very soon after picking. Note also that the stalks and stems of the leaves are prickly; it’s a good idea to wear gardening gloves and to use pruning shears to harvest the vegetables. You may even want to don long sleeves. Growing zucchini is a terrific gardening project for kids because it grows so easily and quickly. They can even leave one fruit on the vine just to see how big it will get! The really large vegetables get a little hard and aren’t the tastiest, but it’s fun to see how monstrous they can become.

Zucchini is also quite versatile in the kitchen--and that’s a good thing, because you’ll have so much of it! You can make stir fry, zucchini bread, or just enjoy it raw by the slice dipped in ranch dressing on stifling hot summer days.

Zucchini is high in calcium, potassium, vitamin A and folate. And one cup only has 16 calories!

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