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Zucchini take their name from the Italian word for "little squash." They are one of the most popular and easiest to grow of the many varieties of the tender, summer squashes people grow in their home gardens.

Zucchini look a bit like cucumbers, but taste quite different. Where cucumbers tend to taste watery, zucchini taste more dry and fluffy. Zucchini can be eaten raw, in salads, but they are more often eaten cooked. They are prepared in many different ways: fried, steamed, boiled, baked, or grilled. They also make a very tasty dessert bread, something similar to banana bread.


The plants from which zucchini were developed go back at least 8,000 years to Mexico. These were pumpkin-like squash grown by the early Native Americans. Some of these squash were brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus 600 years ago. But they were not zucchini. Zucchini are themselves much more recent offspring of these early squash. They were first grown in Italy little more than 100 years ago. They arrived in the United States only in the 1920's, brought here by Italian immigrants.

Zucchini challenges

While zucchini can be easy to grow, they can also be challenging. The first challenge is to pick them at precisely the right time. The second is to figure out how to deal with the abundance they sometimes produce.

Timing:  When you grow zucchini, you need to watch them like a hawk. When the weather is warm and your zucchini plants have begun to come into bloom, you must inspect them closely every 2 or 3 days. That's because a "zuke" that's just right for eating can develop in a mere 4 to 6 days from when its flower has bloomed. That zuke should be harvested right at the point of just-rightness. You shouldn't dally. You shouldn't wait.

If you do wait, even just another 3 or 4 days, you'll end up something that can probably serve you better as a door stop than as a meal-time treat. What today would be a sweet, light delicacy in a few days becomes an oversized, inedible gourd, tough and thick on the outside and flabby and bitter on the inside.

So that's one challenge: getting the timing right on your harvesting — harvesting zukes individually and at the orecisely right time. The second challenge shows up when, all of a sudden, too many of those individuals all decide to bloom and plump up at the same time.

Abundance: This does happen quite often. Almost every zuke grower has experienced it. Too many zucchini reach their peak point for harvesting all within a very short window. And unlike carrots, peppers, and potatoes, zucchini won't wait. As a result, gardeners too often end up with a lot more ready-to-go zucchini than they themselves can use.

So, what do they do? They make zucchini stews they can put in the freezer. They bake extra loaves of zucchini bread. And they try to hand at least some of the surplus off onto lucky neighbors. If you're lucky enough to live next door to someone who grows zucchinis, you may have already had that experience. For many people, in fact, that is how they get introduced to their first zucchini.