Summer squash season is here, and you know what that means–zucchini galore! Along with cucumbers, melons, and winter squash, zucchini is a member of the Cucurbitaceae or gourd family. With its soft texture and mild flavor, zucchini is a highly versatile vegetable that grows well in Montana’s summer climate.
Zucchini is a low-maintenance plant. You can plant zucchini in garden beds or directly into a bag of nutrient rich soil (as pictured to the left).
Hardiness: Frost will injure top growth. Zucchini needs warm weather to grow.
Planting: Zucchini can be planted from seeds or transplants. It prefers well-drained soils with organic matter. Plant seeds ½-1 inch deep.
Days to maturity: Plants reach maturity between 40 and 60 days, making them ideal for Montana’s short growing season.
Spacing: Space approximately 48 inches apart or 12 inches apart in rows. If planting in mounds, thin to 2-3 plants per mound by pinching off plants at soil level when first true leaves have formed. Consistently water squash throughout the season.
Harvesting: Harvest young, small fruit for more tender and flavorful zucchini. Picking before maturity also encourages continual flowering of plants and additional fruit production. And don’t forget about the edible squash blossoms! They make tasty side dishes or appetizers, like this stuffed squash blossom recipe we shared on Instagram.
Tips: If you leave large zucchini on the vine, the plant will decline, so be sure to remove them even if you will not eat them.
Storage: Zucchini keeps in the refrigerator for about 4 days.
Did you know that zucchini produces male flowers for 1-2 weeks before female flowers? For a flower to become a fruit, or zucchini, the pollen from the male flowers must be carried by bees to the female flowers. Poor production may occur during rainy weather when bees are inactive. Be sure not to use pesticides during the bloom period to avoid poisoning your friendly, neighborhood pollinators!
Along with other members of the gourd family, zucchini is packed with beneficial vitamins and minerals. It is particularly high in vitamin A, Vitamin C, manganese, riboflavin, potassium, and folate. The skin of the zucchini contains the highest amount of antioxidants, which protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.
Zucchini is rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber which promote good digestion, keeping your gut happy and healthy. Have you ever heard of the gut microbiome? It is made up of trillions of bacteria, microbes, and fungi living in your digestive tract. The gut microbiome plays many important roles in maintaining health. And the soluble fiber found in many fruits and vegetables, like zucchini, provide food for these beneficial gut bacteria to prosper. Soluble fiber can also help lower “bad” cholesterol leading to cardiovascular benefits. Insoluble fiber dissolves in your digestive tract forming a gel-like substance that adds bulk to help keep things moving.
Whether from neighbors, friends, or your own garden, by late summer I usually find myself with a bounty of zucchini in the kitchen. It can be used grated, raw, roasted, sautéed, or baked in various recipes. From pastas dishes to fritters and tacos, its mild taste makes zucchini adaptable to a wide variety of dishes and flavors. It can also be frozen and blended in a refreshing summer smoothie or served in sweets like chocolate zucchini bread.
One trip to the farmers market and you will find many varieties of zucchini and summer squash to choose from including chayote, patty pan, yellow crookneck, yellow straight neck. When purchasing zucchini, look for ones small in small in size with firm, unpunctured skin. Very large zucchini are low in moisture and can be dry, tough, and woody. These are best used in baked good recipes that call for shredded squash. Check out our guide to summer squash here [insert Instagram link].
Of all the great ways to prepare zucchini, one of our favorites is this Skillet Zucchini Cornbread. It’s the perfect side dish for a BBQ, potluck, or family dinner. Serve it warm with a bit of honey butter for a small slice of heaven.
½ cup cornmeal
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded zucchini, drained
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup butter, unsalted
1 cup cheddar cheese, finely shredded
3 Tbsp fresh herbs, (we used chives and parsley)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Melt ¼ cup butter over medium heat in a 10-inch cast iron skillet and set aside.
3. In a large bowl add cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.Mix well.
4. To the dry ingredients, add the shredded zucchini, buttermilk, eggs, and the butter from the skillet. Stir until just combined. Gently fold in the cheddar cheese and herbs into the mixture.
5. Grease the sides of the skillet using any butter remaining in the pan. Pour the batter into your skillet and spread evenly. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Tracee Hume is a Bozeman-based Communications Coordinator for Abundant Montana. She loves making a mess in her kitchen, but doesn’t love cleaning it up. Send her your favorite recipes at [email protected]!