If you’re aiming for self-sufficiency on a low budget, and in a relatively small garden there is no better plant to grow than zucchini. Even tiny balcony gardens can accommodate a planter with one zucchini plant, and by the end of summer, you’ll have harvested so much that you’re sick of them!
In this article, I’ll be looking at the potential yields from a zucchini plant, and weighing it up against growing better-quality ingredients from the same plant. We’ll also look at a few different types of zucchini so you know how many of each variety of zucchini plants to grow per person.
Planning zucchini yields
One zucchini plant can produce 30-40 zucchinis over one growing season, but only if you pick them small. We grew twelve plants this year, in a simple grid, which has produced the base of most of our meals between July and October.
A great vegan alternative to mince is diced zucchini, which cooks down well as a base for sauces. For a homegrown meal for one person, about 200g of zucchini, diced, will cook down as a base (roughly two small zucchinis, or one big one).
A single plant would produce more than enough for one person in a good growing year, but the more you eat, the more you’ll need to grow!
Understanding zucchini plants
Zucchini plants are part of the cucurbit family, which also includes cucumbers, marrows, pumpkins, squashes, and gourds. Each zucchini plant produced both male and female flowers. The male flowers tend to be slightly smaller in most varieties, but the tell-tale sign is that female flowers have a small bulge at their base that will become the fruit.
Each zucchini plant can spread to around 1-1.5m wide and grows in a typical dome shape from a central stem. Stressed plants will send out extra shoots which can root away from their parents.
For one person eating several zucchini meals per week, you would need a 2mx2m raised bed, with one plant in each corner (in less humid climates, you can often squeeze a fifth plant into the middle too).
Different types of zucchini
There are some wonderfully varied zucchini out there, each with its own unique look, texture, and flavor. Patty Pan is technically a squash but grows and tastes like zucchinis, while typical courgettes come in all shapes and sizes, from yellow varieties to ball-shaped types.
Courgettes and marrows are both referred to as zucchinis, and both have similar flavors and textures when they reach maturity. However, marrows can be tough when picked young, whereas courgettes are much more tender, with fuller flavor when picked at just 2-3”.
For me, it’s the soft-skinned Zephyr courgette that has always had the most flavor, and best texture, and proved to be a reliable cropper.
Zucchini yields, per plant, per person, by variety
However, if it’s yield planning you’re after, then weight, size, and harvest times are more crucial than flavor. Based on our last few years of zucchini crops, I’ve pulled together the average crop for a single plant in our climate (Zone 9; cold winters, wet springs, mild summers).
|Fruit weight when picked (ounces)
|Overall yield (LB)
For yield size, obviously Green Bush is the best courgette to grow in a small space, but if it’s versatility you’re after then try Patty Pan or Zephyr. They are far easier to use in multiple dishes and work just as well in salads as they do grilled.
How to plant zucchini for higher yields
Courgettes are pretty happy in most conditions and can be planted in tight rows, but it can be hard to manage your crops in that way. When it comes to spacing courgettes, ventilation is more important than competition, so plant them with enough space for airflow between mature plants (3ft apart minimum).
Zucchini seedlings (started from seed indoors in early spring) are ready to plant out after the last frost in late spring. When you sow zucchini seeds indoors, add a thick layer of mulch (compost or rotted manure are best) to the ground outside in preparation. This gives young plants enough nutrients to grow strongly for the first 8-10 weeks after planting out.
Once fruit appears, feed them once every two weeks with any organic vegetable feed to top up the soil nutrients.
During periods of drought, pick any existing fruit to reduce strain on the plant, and water well once every two days to maintain good soil moisture. Other than that, zucchini can cope with most weather conditions, and only need watering when the soil is noticeably dry.
How to harvest zucchini
Harvesting zucchini is a bit counterintuitive, but bear with me. There’s a reverence to giant marrows, grown for show, and out-performing your gardening friends, but by the time a zucchini reaches that size it has a texture similar to a plastic sponge and is virtually inedible.
Rather than allowing every fruit to reach its full size and ripen, pick them small before the seeds have fully developed. Grocery store courgettes are the worst example of this, with huge seeds, spongy centers, and tough skins. In mid-summer, it’s wise to visit your veg patch daily to harvest any zucchini fruits that are around 3” long.
Picking zucchini small might reduce your overall harvest, but you’ll get more individual fruits through the season, and better flavor for it. And because they have less water content, they store for longer (up to three weeks in the fridge).
What to do with zucchini gluts
How many plants do you realistically need for one person? We grow about twelve courgettes per year. As vegetarian gardeners, they make the bulk of our meals through summer, fall, and early winter.
Diced, they work as a great replacement for mince or mushrooms, and sliced in half, lengthways, they grill beautifully alongside halloumi for summer burgers. So, if you’re willing to really dive into a zucchini meal plan, you can grow as many as your space permits, for an easy, budget-friendly plant right through the second half of the year.
For most people, one zucchini plant is enough per person, but as a largely self-sufficient gardener, I swear by zucchini as an easy crop that produces about 20% of our food through summer and fall. More than 6 plants per person is definitely too much, but 5-6 is about right for a reliable repeat crop.
Just remember to pick them small. If you’re growing massive marrows on every single plant, you’ll have a glut of inedible spongy vegetables in mid-fall, and end up hating these gorgeous fruits that deserve a much better reputation.