Refreshing, easy-to-grow, and abundant—that’s garden zucchini for you, as well as all summer squash. With only a few plants, you’ll have your fill of zucchini cake, baked zucchini, and fresh salad all summer long. The main challenge is knowing when to harvest summer squash and how. We’ll answer those questions and any other zucchini queries you may have!
When to Harvest Summer Squash
Many people strive to grow big vegetables—pumpkins you can carve into a boat or giant onions to show off at the country fair. While bigger may be better for some veggies, that’s not true for summer squash. Leave them on the vine too long, and they get bitter, grow seeds, and get woody. Plus, the plant gets a signal to stop growing more fruit.
The Sweetest Size
When you harvest them young, you get sweeter summer squash and encourage the plant to keep producing. When zucchini are 5-7” long is the time to pick them. The same applies to crooknecks and yellow varieties. At this size, they’ve grown as large as possible while still remaining tender. With the same philosophy, you can harvest round summer squash when they’re as big as a tennis ball, and scalloped squash when they’re 3-6” in diameter.
When to Harvest Baby Summer Squash
Many people prize baby zucchini for their extra sweetness and cuteness. They’re ready to eat at any size. Other summer squash are edible as soon as the skin is glossy and can be pierced with your fingernail.
When to Harvest Summer Squash Flowers
Looking for extra color in your salad or stir fry? You can pick and eat squash flowers as well. The ideal time is right before they naturally fall off the plant. If you don’t want to sacrifice future fruit, just harvest the male flowers. They grow on a thin stem, while females grow on a thicker stem that becomes the fruit. Remember to leave a few male flowers to ensure pollination.
How to Eat Summer Squash
When your summer production is in full swing, how do you use all of your harvest? After all, one can only eat so much zucchini bread. Yet, these powerhouse veggies go a long way in many meals. You can roast them like winter squash, grate them into pastas, mix them into soups, or even bake them into french fries. Of course, they can always be eaten fresh in salads as well.
How to Store Summer Squash
If you can’t eat them when they’re ready to harvest, there are ways to store summer squash. Boost their life in the refrigerator by keeping them as dry as possible. Don’t wash them; keep them in a paper bag like mushrooms, and be careful not to pierce their skin. They’ll last for one week no problem and even two weeks, but check to make sure no moisture gets to them. Zucchini can be stored in the freezer for up to three months. You can dice or grate and then blanch them or make them into soups.
How to Harvest Summer Squash
Now you know when to pick, how to eat, and how to store summer squash, but there’s still one missing piece of the puzzle—how to harvest them. It’s best to cut them away from the vine with a garden pruner or sharp knife. If you plan to store them, remember to handle them gently so they stay free of wounds or cuts to the skin.
Once you know when to harvest summer squash, you can enjoy these abundant veggies at their peak sweetness. For more questions about vegetable gardening, check out our other blogs, and visit our garden centers in Chicagoland!
Platt Hill Nursery is Chicago’s premier garden center and nursery in the Chicagoland area.