Can I Get A ‘Do-Over’?

Monday, April 16th, 2012

I had to take a hiatus from blogging – started a new job with a steep learning curve – but you didn’t miss much in my garden last season. Spring was cold and rainy so the mosquitoes were horrendous and the aphids prolific. I put in the garden about 6 weeks too late so the tomatoes didn’t ripen well before the first frost. The slugs chewed up every broad-leafed vegetable I planted because I just didn’t have time to constantly troll for them. And it wasn’t just the insects and diseases my plants had to contend with – they also had to compete with each other for space and nutrients. And when it’s a battle between the zucchini and the carrots, guess who’s going to win?! I have to say, though, it’s impressive what my poor little neglected garden was able to produce despite my absence and the horrible weather.

2011 Season...Yes, I know it looks lush but where's all the fruit?

2011 Season...Yes, I know it looks lush but where's all the fruit?

So, despite my threats to turn to plastic plant gardening, last year’s little successes have encouraged me to get back in the garden again (and, hopefully, back to blogging) because, as we all know, gardeners are an optimistic lot – and there are so many things I still haven’t tried growing yet like strawberries from seed…and Brazilian verbena…and tuberose…and black radishes…and purple carrots…and there are some interesting new/old lettuce varieties…

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Everybody’s Growing It

Thursday, August 19th, 2010
A portion of the zucchini harvest.

A portion of the zucchini harvest.

It seems like everyone grows zucchini! And, why not? It’s easy to grow, it’s prolific (understatement), and its leaves provide a lovely, bold contrast to the smaller foliage of most of the other plants in the kitchen garden. It’s also easy to cook with – it can be used up front and center when stuffed and baked, it plays well with others in dishes like ratatouille, and it can be disguised with sugar and chocolate and baked into a cake. What’s not to love?

Well, for me, I’m discovering 3 plants is more than enough for my husband and I. I’ve missed a couple of days of harvesting and now have a zucchini the size of my thigh! Seriously, I’m not kidding!

Also, it’s been a wet summer and, while I’ve placed the zucchinis in the hottest part of the garden, there’s been a good amount of fruit rot and slug damage, making harvesting a sometimes icky process.

I’m growing two kinds of zucchini this year. Ronde de Nice is a French heirloom whose seeds I purchased from West Coast Seeds. It’s a cute thing – round and stripey – with unusual grey and pale green variegated leaves that really stand out in the garden. To take advantage of the shape of the fruit, in cooking I think it would work well stuffed and baked. It’s supposedly bruises easily which is why it’s not readily available in grocery stores (although you may be able to find it at some farmers’ markets). Portofino hybrid is the other zucchini I’m growing with seeds from William Dam Seeds. An Italian zucchini, it seems to be more prolific than the Ronde de Nice and its taste is usually described as nutty. But, as I mentioned, it’s BIG; if you grow this type, be prepared to get creative in your cooking because one squash is going to provide you with a lot of dishes!

Ronde de Nice zucchini hiding behind its stunning leaves.

Ronde de Nice zucchini hiding behind its stunning leaves.

Ronde de Nice leaves.

Ronde de Nice leaves provide a striking counterpoint in the kitchen garden.

Both are, as I mentioned, easy to grow. Give them a well-draining, compost-rich soil, lots of sun, and, most important, consistent watering. In the south, you might be plagued with squash vine borer – a nasty little bug (it’s actually the larvae that causes the damage) that inhabits the stems of plants and causes the plant to constantly look wilted no matter how often you water. There are a number of recommendations to prevent the squash vine borer – prevention seems to be the key since there don’t appear to be any organic pesticides:

1. Make sure to dispose of any infected plants – and not in the compost, unless you know your compost can really heat up. The larvae inhabits the stem before burrowing into the surrounding soil and you don’t want it to just be kept warm and toasty through the winter – you want it to fry!

2. For those with the room, you can till the soil. I’m not so keen about this method since I think one should disturb the soil as little as possible to allow the micro-organisms and mycorrhizae to do their thing but if you’re desperate and have been battling the squash vine borer for a while, you might want to try it as a last-ditch effort.

3. The adults are considered a moth and, when they emerge from the soil in about June, they lay eggs at the base of the plant. You can put down floating row covers over the plant to prevent the moths from laying eggs but, if you’re worried that pollinators won’t be able to get to the flowers, you can try…

4. …Wrapping the stems in nylon pantyhose to prevent the larvae from chewing its way in.

5. Once you know you have squash vine borer larvae (those wilting leaves), sometimes you can remove them by hand. Make a slit in the stem and, after digging the larva out,  cover the stem with soil to promote root formation.

Here in the north, this summer, the squash vine borer is not my problem – slugs are. I made a tactical error and planted too close together – space the plants about 2 feet apart – and then we had a wet growing season. The big leaves shade the soil and provide a moist environment for the slugs that proceed to chew to their heart’s content. I take great delight in stomping on them, proving yet again that gardening is not a gentle art.

I’ve been really looking forward to the zucchini this year, maybe because I could never grow it very successfully in Texas, and last year, the first year for the northern garden, I didn’t plant it because I didn’t grow my own transplants and had to rely on what was available in the garden centres. They’re an easy thing to start inside and you can find my tutorial series on seed starting here:

on containers http://www.seedandbean.com/blog/?p=500

on shelving http://www.seedandbean.com/blog/?p=511

on lighting http://www.seedandbean.com/blog/?p=575

on hardening off http://www.seedandbean.com/blog/?p=728

I’ve already used the Portofino in a couple of ratatouille dishes and I’m definitely going to make a chocolate cake at some point. But zucchini flowers, in fact, all squash blossoms, can be used in cooking. When you’re in the mood for something different, head on over to my terribly talented friend Lisa’s blog and see what she can do with a squash blossom.

If you’re not growing it already, what are you waiting for? Jump on the zucchini bandwagon.