Get to Know & Grow Zucchini and Summer Squash

The French call them courgettes. Sometimes the English call them vegetable marrow. But it was the Italians who gave them the name we all know in the U.S. – zucchini. Name game aside, zucchini and other summer squashes are easy to grow, and a tasty addition to your summer supper table. Read on to learn more, and get growing.

Growing Tips:

Zucchini are easy to grow from seed, but they need a fair amount of space. There are both bush and vining varieties, so be sure which you want – bushes will get big, and vines will need a trellis. If you’re short on space, patty pan squash plants are compact enough to be grown in a five-gallon container.

If you’re planting zucchini, the good news is that each plant can produce up to nine pounds of squash, so you only need to sow a few seeds. If you overplant and find yourself drowning in zucchini, just click here for some fresh ideas on how to use it up.

Care and Feeding:

  • Be sure to prepare the planting bed with fertilizer and compost – squashes depend heavily on good soil to produce good fruits. They also thrive on heat, so give them the sunniest place possible.
  • Squash plants don’t transplant well because of their deep root structure, so it’s best to plant seeds. Here are a few tips for success:
    • In most areas, planting in rows or raised beds works well.
    • In cold areas, plant them on little mounds to make sure they stay warm enough.
    • Be sure to leave lots of space to allow access for watering and harvesting.
    • Because summer squashes are mostly water, they need lots of it when they’re growing to keep them from being bitter. Mulching once seedlings are established will help retain moisture. But avoid watering with a sprinkler, as this could lead to a damaging condition called powdery mildew. Using a soaker hose or watering by hand is a better bet.
    • Harvest fruits when they’re on the small side – for zucchini, this means no longer than eight inches. Larger specimens may be more impressive, but they won’t be as delicious or tender.

Five Fun Facts:

  1. Zucchini is a member of the same family as melons, cucumbers, and hard winter squashes. If you want to get technical about it, it’s the cucurbitaceae family.
  2. Summer squash doesn’t just mean “yellow zucchini”. It’s the umbrella term used for all soft-skinned squashes that can be eaten either raw or cooked. Other examples include patty pan and crookneck squash, but there are plenty of fun hybrids such as tiger-striped zucchini and egg-shaped summer squash.
  3. Like strawberries, zucchini is not technically a vegetable, but the swollen ovary of a female flower, which makes them a fruit. Unlike strawberries, they can grow an inch a day.
  4. While they are mostly water and starch, the unusually high amount of pectin and other key nutrients in summer squashes means they regulate insulin much better than other starch foods. They’re also rich in Vitamins A and C, manganese and potassium.
  5. Zucchini and summer squash plants are monoecious, meaning they bear both male and female flowers. The male flowers outnumber the female ones three to one, and they’re edible. This is why they show up in farmers’ markets and on the menus of fancy restaurants.

Five Historical Facts:

  1. Archaeologists have found evidence zucchini were cultivated in Mexico as early 5500 B.C.
  2. Columbus brought the first cucurbita pepo seeds to Italy, where the fruits were given the name zucchino, meaning small squash. In France they’re called courgettes, which also translates as small squash. In England, some people call them vegetable marrow, long marrow or garden marrow.
  3. George Washington grew zucchini in his garden.
  4. Italian immigrants brought zucchini to the U.S. in the 1920s.
  5. The town of Obetz, Ohio, has held a zucchini festival for the last 29 years. Along with the expected zucchini contest, there is a parade, a motorcycle and car show, and a zucchini queen and princess pageant. There’s also plenty of entertainment – the headliner for the 2015 festival is Clint Black.