By SARA ARTHURS
They’re everywhere. Their numbers are growing. There’s no stopping or escaping them! No, it’s not a horror movie about an attacking zombie horde — it’s zucchini. The famously prolific vegetable is starting its harvest season and area gardeners may find themselves overwhelmed. Fortunately, there are nutritious ways to cook it as well as to preserve some of the summer’s bounty for later in the year.
Bill Lanning, a local master gardener, said after picking zucchinis off his plants at a Findlay garden plot the day before, new ones were already ready to harvest.
Asked how many zucchinis one plant produces, Lanning quipped, “Probably 500.”
In reality it’s not that many but it’s generally at least 20 to 25, he said. Lanning said planting just one zucchini plant is risky because it might not live, but if a gardener plants two or more, and each of them produces dozens of zucchini — it can get out of hand. He has four plants.
Lanning said the plant is naturally prolific. He has done nothing special to his zucchini other than some fertilizing, same as he has fertilized the rest of his garden.
Zucchini should be grown in the sun but can be grown in any type of soil, he said, and it’s easy for beginning gardeners. Lanning planted in early June and less than six weeks later was harvesting zucchini.
“How long do they live?” Lanning said. “People will say too long.”
However, zucchini can fall prey to pests including a borer, so he does suggest planting new seeds partway through the summer if you want to ensure zucchini production into fall.
Zucchini is in the squash family and there are new varieties available all the time. Lanning said it’s possible to grow golden or speckled zucchini and there’s even a round type that looks like a softball. He grows more traditional plain green, long zucchini.
Lanning and his wife bought a zucchini cookbook and his wife has used it to create soups. She also makes zucchini bread which she freezes. Lots of recipes are also available online, Lanning said.
Although the Lannings are creative in finding uses for zucchini, they still have more than they need. Lanning gives zucchini to neighbors and friends.
Shawn Ochs, extension educator, family and consumer sciences at the Ohio State University Extension, Hancock County, said zucchini is “a very versatile vegetable” and can be used in sweet or savory recipes. Zucchini can be baked, steamed, sauteed, fried or broiled, as well as eaten raw in salads, she said. It will go well in a stew, curry or stir-fry.
And it can be used in desserts. One of Ochs’ favorites is zucchini bread, but it is also possible to make zucchini cake, she said. The flavor is mild enough it can be put into sweet dishes without trouble. It’s so mild that it can be grated and pureed with spaghetti sauce to sneak extra vegetables into children’s food.
“Kids don’t even know it’s in there,” Ochs said.
Or, if not in the sauce, the zucchini can be under it. Ochs said another possibility is to use a julienne peeler to make zucchini into strips, then put spaghetti sauce on it.
“You can use zucchini as a pasta substitute,” she said.
Ochs found a recipe online for a zucchini spread to be served on crackers that, in addition to zucchini, includes olive oil, butter, garlic and thyme.
“You can actually take that mixture and you can can it,” Ochs said.
Zucchini can be shredded and frozen. Ochs recommends using a freezer-safe bag and eliminating as much air as possible. It will keep for up to six months in the freezer. Ochs suggested grating the zucchini or using a julienne peeler.
As a green vegetable, it has many nutritional benefits.
“It’s low-calorie,” Ochs said. “No saturated fats or cholesterol.”
The peel contains fiber as well as antioxidants, she said. Zucchini is also a source of potassium “which is heart-friendly.”
When harvesting, it’s recommended that the gardener let the zucchini grow to a medium size, about 6 to 8 inches long and 2 inches or less in diameter. Zucchini when harvested should have bright, shiny skin and should be firm and heavy, Ochs said. Waiting too long to harvest them can lead to having overly mature zucchinis that feel spongy and have less nutritional value, she said.
Zucchini can be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable compartment of a refrigerator for two or three days, Ochs said.
“You can pull the blossoms and eat those too,” Ochs said.
Lanning, however, said he tried this once, frying and breading the blossoms, but found he didn’t care for it and would prefer the vegetable to the blossoms.
Although in some ways zucchini can seem like a nuisance there’s also the pleasure to be taken in watching a garden grow.
“I have a lot of fun,” Lanning said.
For those who have too much zucchini and aren’t sure what to do with them, there are opportunities to learn how to preserve or freeze food safely.
The OSU Extension is offering several classes on preserving food this summer. Topics include freezing fruits and vegetables; food safety principles; food selection and seasonal picks; canning — water bath versus pressure; and research-based resources.
“Canning Your Bounty” will be taught from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Family Center, room 118 and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the OSU Extension office, 7868 County Road 140; and “Dehydration Methods” from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Family Center, room 118, and from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Extension office.
To register, call 419-422-3851.
Pressure gauge testing is offered at $5. People should drop off lids with the dial gauge intact and will be called when the results and the lid are available for pick up.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs