If there’s a plant that is easy to incorporate in many dishes, it’s zucchini.
Botanically classified as a fruit, it is a well-loved summer squash variety with a refreshing flavor that isn’t too overwhelming.
Want to try growing them in your home garden? Besides proper care, you should know when is the best time to harvest zucchini.
When to harvest zucchini? Generally speaking, you will know zucchini fruits are ready to be picked when they are about six inches long and dark green or golden yellow in color, depending on the variety. More importantly, they have to be firm enough to give off that crunch we all love about them.
How Do You Know When Your Zucchini Is Ready to Harvest?
One reason home gardeners like growing zucchinis is because of how quickly they mature.
If you give them the right growing conditions, you can expect your zucchini plants to bloom anywhere from 45 to 55 days after planting.
Healthy zucchini plants will produce lush dark green leaves.
The problem is, this thick foliage makes it tricky to know when it is time to harvest the fruits.
What happens is that the big leaves of the plant shade and hide the fruits, so you will need to check them regularly so that they don’t go overripe.
For mildly sweet zucchinis, look for fruits that are small and firm to the touch.
Ideally, they should be approximately six to eight inches long.
However, it will still depend on the variety you chose to grow. Some produce fruits that remain edible up to 12 inches long.
They are most likely rotten if you find that the zucchini fruits feel mushy.
What Happens if You Don’t Harvest Zucchini?
Again, it only takes less than two months for zucchini plants to grow and produce fruits.
For this reason, many home gardeners find themselves blindsided, having too many zucchini fruits but not much time to figure out what to do with them.
You can always give some to friends and family, but what will happen if you don’t pick them immediately?
Leaving the fruits on the plant will slow down its production.
However, you should know that they also ripen rather quickly. A firm and sweet fruit today could become rotten and inedible tomorrow.
Basically, if you don’t pick them, the fruit will continue to grow bigger and bigger.
At the same time, the rind will turn hard, the seeds will grow tougher, and the interior will become mushy.
How to Harvest Zucchini?
When it comes to harvesting zucchini, you have to remember two things.
First, to make sure you have the best-tasting zucchinis, you will want to harvest them when they are still young.
Second, if you want to boost production, pick them often.
Don’t be too concerned about harvesting just a couple of them in a day, as doing so won’t hurt the plant.
Here’s how to do it properly:
Step 1: Gather your tools.
We don’t recommend yanking the fruit with your bare hands, as doing so might cause damage to the plant or the fruit.
You can try doing it, twisting the fruit to break off the stem from the plant, but don’t expect great results.
In some unfortunate cases, doing this can even lead to root damage.
To pick zucchinis without damaging the delicate leaves, stems, and roots, you can use a sharp knife, a pair of scissors, or your trusted garden pruners.
Step 2: Look for zucchini fruits to pick.
The next step would be to hunt for fruits that are ready to be picked.
As mentioned, they often hide under the plant’s big leaves, so you will need to look under them.
Be extra careful when doing this so as not to damage the plant.
Step 3: Cut the stem to get the fruit.
With your clean tools, cut the stem about an inch or two from the body of the zucchini.
Repeat the same step to pick the fruits from other plants.
From there, you would want to check them daily so that you can pick the fruits while they are still young, tender, and sweet-tasting.
Harvesting the Flowers
Both the female and male flowers are not only edible but are actually delicious.
Female flowers are those attached to the ends of the zucchini fruit and are better tasting than male flowers.
However, if you harvest them all, you won’t have fruits to pick.
You will want to harvest the flowers before they naturally fall off the plant.
To do this, cut the stem one or two inches from the male flower. Then, remove the stamen immediately.
Harvesting female flowers is easier, as you can often just pinched them off of the zucchini fruit.
If you are not comfortable doing that, you may use your tools too.
Alternatively, pick them off from the plant together with the tiny fruit for even more variety in your dish.
Should You Wash Zucchini After Harvesting?
Right after harvesting, what do you do with your freshly picked zucchinis?
If you harvested too many fruits to consume in a day, and you probably did, you’re probably wondering what to do with the rest of them.
Again, you can give some away to neighbors, friends, and family, but do you have to wash them beforehand?
We don’t recommend washing zucchinis until you are ready to eat them or use them for cooking.
Doing so exposes the fruit to too much moisture, which could hasten spoilage.
Can You Eat Zucchini Immediately After Harvesting?
If you know you picked them at the right time, there’s no reason why you can’t eat zucchinis immediately after.
Of course, you will need to wash them thoroughly first to remove any dirt, which shouldn’t take too much effort.
You will find that they taste their best when still young, so watch out for that.
Anyway, zucchini fruits are edible at any stage, so knowing which fruit to pick shouldn’t be stressful.
Plus, if you do harvest too many, you can just store them away for use later.
How to Store Zucchini
Picking zucchinis frequently will encourage the plant to produce more fruits.
For some, this is a good thing because they get to have plenty of produce to enjoy and try zucchini recipes.
For others, it could mean having more than enough zucchini fruits than your family can consume.
Fortunately, you will find various ways to store zucchini.
Here are some easy-to-follow storage tips to give you a better idea:
Storing Whole Fruits
If you wish to store whole zucchinis, it’s very important that you keep them dry and unwashed.
As mentioned, washing before storing will encourage mold and decay.
Instead of washing them, wipe off any moisture from the skin using paper towels.
Next, put them in a plastic or paper bag, but do not seal the bag off.
There should be enough ventilation to prevent moisture buildup.
Toss the bag or bags in your fridge’s crisper drawer, which has the right humidity level for the zucchini to stay fresh longer.
Using this storage method will keep them fresh anywhere from five and seven days.
Any longer than that, and you’ll notice the skin starting to wilt.
Storing and Freezing Cut Zucchini
Aside from storing whole fruits, you can also cut them up and freeze them.
Doing this will keep them edible for longer, ensuring you have enough to use for different zucchini recipes.
Cut each fruit into cubes and blanch them in boiling water for one minute.
Make sure you don’t add salt to the boiling water as you normally would with other vegetables.
Immediately after, transfer the blanched cut-up pieces to a bowl with ice water.
Next, drain the water and line the pieces on top of a paper towel to dry.
Keep them in the freezer this way overnight so that they freeze separately.
Once they are frozen, transfer them into a container or bag. Let some of the air out before sealing the bag off.
Zucchinis stored this way will last for up to three months.
Another method of storing zucchini is pickling them.
The internet offers a long list of recipes to pickle zucchini, so you won’t have a tough time figuring out how to do this.
To give you an idea, you will need to use a mixture of mustard, mustard seeds, turmeric, celery seeds, vinegar, and sugar to pickle zucchini.
It’s best if you pickle them with onions for a more delicious flavor.
With jars of this in your pantry or fridge, adding a touch of tanginess and sweetness to your salads becomes easy.
The good thing about growing zucchini is that it produces both male flowers and female flowers.
As such, they won’t require much from you for them to produce fruits.
And once they do, you will be surprised by just how many they can produce and how quickly the fruits mature.
You can then eat them raw, add them to your salads, grill or pan-fry them, or even them into zucchini bread.
Really, your imagination is the limit when it comes to this versatile summer squash.