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Weekend Life

Learning to Grow: Don’t turn your back on zucchini

This year, for the very first time, I planted zucchini in my vegetable garden. I don’t have a large garden so I opted for just one plant to provide a few zucchini for the summer table. 

Knowing that I should allow for a 2- to 3-foot spread, I gave the plant plenty of room to grow.

I was soon delighted to see blossoms and even a few babies developing. 

Then I went on vacation. 

When I returned after just one week the plant had overtaken its corner of the garden and was encroaching on the surrounding veggies. 

The few babies that were just developing a week ago had turned into giants. That’s when I realized – never turn your back on your zucchini or it will take over the garden.

Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) is a summer squash with Italian roots.  It is believed to have been developed from a mutation in an existing summer squash. It was brought to the U.S. in the 1920s, but didn’t become popular until the 1930s. 

Today, it is widely planted in home gardens and there are numerous recipes for this versatile fruit. 

Visit the extension website at to find some great recipes.

Growing zucchini is very simple. 

Plant seeds when the soil is warm and after the last frost date. In our area of Northern Illinois the last frost date is usually around mid-May.

The plant produces both male and female flowers, which are distinguished from one another by their stems; the female has a short, thick stem with a small bulge at the base indicating a developing fruit and the male has a thin stem. 

Both are edible. The fruit develops quickly after pollination, usually within four to eight days after flowering. 

Zucchini should be harvested when it is young and tender, about 2 inches in diameter and 6- to 8-inches long. If you wait too long, the skin of the squash becomes too thick and tough and the flesh is stringy. Plus maturing fruit slows production of more fruit, so harvest early and often.

But, if you return from vacation to find a behemoth in your garden like I did, all is not lost. There is always Zucchini bread. 

• Suzanne Thorne is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166.



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