Zucchini is a prolific, rapid growing vegetable that one minute will be a diminutive 3 inches (8 cm.) long and practically overnight becomes a foot and half (46 cm.) long monster. It’s not always easy to know when to pick fruits and vegetables and zucchini is no exception. So when is zucchini ready to pick? Read on to find out all the dirt on how and when to harvest zucchini.
Zucchini Squash Harvesting
Zucchini is a summer squash, a member of the Cucurbita family amongst which melons, pumpkins, cucumbers and gourds also reside. Zucchini dates back to 5500 B.C. in the northern parts of South America. It was then “discovered” by European explorers and introduced into their countries of origin.
Zucchini grows on a bushy, non-vining plant with large, dark green leaves peppered with silvery-grey streaks. These large leaves provide shade to the fruit but also tend to play “hide n’ seek” with it. Hence, one minute you have tiny zucchini and seemingly in the next, gargantuan fruit. That’s why vigilant zucchini plant picking is so important. The mammoth fruit tends to become stringy on the inside with a tough exterior. Generally, when picking zucchini plants, you are looking for smaller, tender fruits that are sweet and mild.
The plants produce both male and female flowers, making it a perfect squash to grow for those with limited space, as the plant does not need another to set fruit. Trust me, one healthy plant will produce more than enough fruit for most small families. In fact, harvesting and storing zucchini at the proper time and conditions will undoubtedly provide ample fruit for not only your family but your friends and extended family as well! So when is zucchini ready to pick?
How and When to Harvest Zucchini
Ideally, zucchini squash harvesting will commence when you have fruit that is 6-8 inches (15-20 cm.) long. Some cultivars have fruit that is still edible at up to a foot (30 cm.) long. That said, if you leave the fruit on too long, the seeds and rind harden, making it unpalatable.
If you pick often, fruit production is hastened, which may or may not be a good thing. If you find that you and yours are drowning in more zucchini than can be reasonably used, leave a few fruit on the plant to slow down production.
Fruit should also be dark green (or yellow or white depending upon the variety) and firm. If the fruit feels mushy, it’s probably rotting and should be discarded.
Harvesting and Storing Zucchini
Don’t just pull the fruit from the plant when zucchini squash harvesting. You will likely damage the plant. Cut the fruit from the plant at the stem.
With its broad leaves, zucchini fruit can be difficult to spot, hence, giants are often found hiding where you had never noticed fruit before. Check under the leaves for hidden fruit. Be careful when you are hunting, lest you damage the fragile leaves and stems.
Now that you have harvested the fruit, how do you store it? Store unwashed zucchini in a perforated or open plastic bag for up to a week or freeze the fruit for use later down the road. There are a couple of ways to do this. I shred unpeeled zucchini, drain it in a colander and then squeeze it gently to remove excess moisture.
Place it in sealed quart size freezer bags and freeze them flat so they can be stacked in the freezer. I shred it because the end result will likely be zucchini bread or fried zucchini cakes. You can also wash the fruit, dry it, and cut it into one inch cubes and then freeze it in freezer bags. Either way, frozen zucchini lasts up to 3 months.