by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Are you overrun by zucchini this summer? Slice it, grill it, fill it, fry it, bake it, pickle it, grate it, turn it into zoodles – zucchini is the most versatile vegetable in the garden. Desperation may have something to do with all those variations, because the more you pick, the more the plant produces. And there is usually one that gets away, hiding under leaves and reaching an enormous size!
Zucchini is originally native to Mexico, but the squash we know today is a variety brought to the United States by Italian immigrants. The early varieties, bred in Italy in the 16th century, were round. They were dubbed zucchini from Zucca, meaning pumpkin, and ini, which means small. The elongated version we know, grow and love was developed near Milan.
The squash was used here but really took off in the early 1970s with the age of flower children and their focus on home gardens and vegetarianism. Soon, zukes began popping up in seed collections - Burpee, for example in 1973 - and on grocery store counters. Zucchini cookbooks abounded shortly after, because this veggie is generous to a fault!
You can slow down the production by eating the female flowers, identified by a tiny zuke at the base of the blossom, stuffed with cheese or meat and immersed in sauce or fried.
Female zucchini blossoms can be stuffed with cheese or meat and fried!
What can you do with all the bounty of zucchini? Eat it, donate it to a food bank, feed it to backyard chickens and rabbits…or have fun with it. Maybe you should hold a neighborhood contest for the biggest zucchini and share a potluck of zucchini dishes. Or you can use pumpkin-carving tools to make designs in the outer skin for a centerpiece. Bat a whiffle ball with the giant ones, and then save and dry the mature seeds for the cardinals at your feeders.
When all else fails, celebrate April fool’s day in August: play a joke on a friend or neighbor by sneaking into their garden and placing your overgrown zucchini among their plants. Or offload your extras on the doorstep of a friend or neighbor in the dark of night like the Tooth Fairy – surprise…it’s a giant zuke! All’s fair when it comes to zucchini!
Pumpkin-carving tools work well for carving zucchini into a table centerpiece.
All kidding aside, if you have an excess of zucchini, shred it and freeze so it will be available all winter long. A good use for this shredded zucchini is in a yummy chocolate zucchini bread. This recipe takes just 15 minutes to prepare and bakes in about 50 minutes. It makes two loaves of 12 slides each. Here are the ingredients: 2 cups sugar, 1 cup canola oil, 3 large eggs, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, ½ cup baking cocoa, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon baking powder, 2 cups shredded, peeled zucchini, 1 cup chopped nuts (optional). Directions: In a large bowl, beat sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla until well blended. Combine flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and baking powder; gradually beat into sugar mixture until blended. Stir in zucchini and nuts. Transfer to two 8x4 inch loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 – 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
Chocolate zucchini bread is a tasty treat and a great way to use excess zucchini.
Here is another low-calorie recipe for Zucchini Tots. Here are the ingredients: 1 cup zucchini, grated, 1 large egg, 1/4 medium onion, diced, 1/4 cup reduced sharp cheddar cheese, grated, 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs salt & pepper to taste, cooking spray. Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray mini muffin tin with cooking spray. Grate zucchini into a clean dish towel. Wring all of the excess water out of the zucchini. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients and season with salt & pepper to taste. Fill each muffin section to the top, pushing down on the filling with your spoon so it's nice and compacted so they don't fall apart when you take them out of the tin. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until the tops are golden. Use a plastic knife or rubber spatula around the edges of each tot to remove them from the muffin tin. Enjoy!
Make the most of your zucchini harvest this summer! Remember it’s good for you and so versatile!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Wouldn’t it be great to have earlier harvests for our favorite summer vegetables? Recent research has proven that our winters may be getting warmer by a degree or two, but that isn’t going to help much with creating earlier harvests. However, there are a number of techniques you can employ to enjoy home-grown vegetables earlier this summer.
First, select early-maturing varieties for your vegetables; seed companies advertise many options for shorter maturity times for almost every type of vegetable. Look for those that mature at least 10 days earlier than the normal varieties. ‘Sweet Zuke’ or ‘Sure Thing’ are zucchini varieties that mature early, for example; earlier yellow squash varieties like ‘Early Summer Crookneck’ and ‘Early Prolific Straightneck’ not only produce harvests earlier, but also have many other good traits. Most seed companies and nurseries offer similar choices for most vegetables.
'Sweet Zuke' is a variety of zucchini that will produce an earlier harvest.
'Early Summer Crookneck' provides wonderful yellow squash.
Another technique to use for early harvest is to plant as early as possible; watch forecasts and check the Mesonet (www.mesonet.org) for soil temperatures in Oklahoma. Watch the weekly forecast, and if you have already planted and cold temperatures are predicted, cover your tender seedlings with plastic or milk jugs, for example, to protect them. You can also warm the soil in your beds using black plastic mulch; although this is not a preferred mulch variety because it is not natural, it is still very effective for warming the soil. About two weeks before planting, spread the mulch over your bed, making sure the black surface is as exposed to the sun as much as possible. When you are ready to plant, simply cut a circle in the plastic and insert your seedlings.
Another option for earlier harvests is to start your plants indoors. Although some varieties are not recommended for transplanting, it is still possible for some varieties; for instance, using peat pots or pots of material that will be absorbed into the soil will offer little disturbance to them when you set them outside. It also helps to give your seedlings as much sunlight as possible, or to use a shop light or florescent desk light over them to aid their growth. Be sure to provide seedlings with a good plant food so they will keep growing until it is time to set them out in the garden.
Here’s a fun idea for starting seeds early, and it would be a fun project for your children or grandchildren, to get them involved in gardening. Purchase some ice cream cones, the regular cup variety, and not sugar cones. Place seed starting mix or potting soil in each cone and plant your seeds just as you would do in a peat pot. Once your seedlings are ready to transplant, just put the entire cone in the ground. It will disintegrate and you will be left with a healthy plant to nourish in your garden. What fun!
Start your seeds in ice cream cones for a biodegradable way to plant without disturbing tender transplants.
When you are ready to transplant your seedlings outdoors, it is important to allow them to become accustomed to the change in environment. Gradually expose them to the outside over a period of three days or so, increasing their exposure each day. Also, be careful not to damage the young, tender seedlings when you handle them. Place them at the same level they were growing in your pots; water and feed them again as well. Avoid planting your tender seedlings on windy days...late afternoon is a good time to plant.
If you follow the steps listed above, you can have earlier harvests, and don’t we all look forward to those wonderful, tasty veggies right from the garden!
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