Zucchinis - a veggie in a hurry
Zucchinis are the best deal you can get in the veggie garden.
They’re quick to crop, taking only 6-7 weeks from seed to harvest, with each plant producing at least 3-5kg of fruit. Plus, the more you pick, the more they grow! In recent years, the large rambling suburb-consuming varieties have been replaced with compact growers that are particularly suited for pots in a small garden or balcony.
Zucchini is a vegetable in a hurry.
Garden beds should be in full sun and enriched with plenty of organic matter. Dig in compost, aged cow manure and organic-based fertiliser. I like to hill the beds in rows a metre apart or create small mounds to improve drainage, especially to avoid problems during summer downpours. Seeds can be sown direct, but if you wish to sow into trays or biodegradable pots, wait until seedlings are 5cm tall with true serrated leaves before transplanting. If using biodegradable pots, plant them straight into the prepared garden bed – this hastens growth and avoids root disturbance.
When planting compact bush varieties, allow at least 1m space between plants. For rambling varieties, plant 2m apart.
If container growing, look for pots 40cm deep and 50cm wide to avoid waterlogged soil. You may find them at your local garden centre as ‘squat pots’. Position in a sunny spot and fill with a quality potting mix.
Once flowers appear, apply an organic liquid feed to encourage more. A watering with liquid potash will also help promote more flowers and fruit.
Watering can be tricky as they hate ‘wet feet’, hence the hilling, but they must not dry out either. Watering thoroughly once a week is preferred to light sprinkling once a day. I flood the trench weekly to encourage a deep root system on the plants; this also avoids overhead watering which encourages diseases. But check your crop every day as plants must not dry out when flowering and fruiting. They grow very quickly, just in days, so moist soils is essential.
Harvest the fruit when it is still young and sweet, about 10cm long. Kids love to grow giant 30cm fruit, but they end up bitter and useless to eat. Chooks like them though.
‘Blackjack’ and ‘Black Beauty’ are both popular rambling varieties with dark green fruit. ‘Goldrush’ F1 hybrid has delicious bright yellow fruits while the traditional ‘Lebanese’ is light green and sweetly flavoured. For compact growers, try ‘Greyzini’, which has green and grey striped fruit or ‘Cocozelle’ which is light green with dark green stripes.
If you’re short on space, grow zucchinis up a lattice or trellis. It makes harvesting simpler and ideal for older gardeners or those with back problems. You can also protect the fruit as they grow by placing them in a sling made from an old stocking to cradle them – an idea I saw in Canada years ago.
If you’re being flooded with fruit, remove some of the male flowers and fry or stuff them with seasoned feta cheese, then bake or fry.
Like many other vine crops, zucchinis require male and female flowers to produce fruit. If you experience lots of flowers and no fruit, there may be issues with pollination and you will need to give Mother Nature a helping hand. Use a small paint brush to pick up pollen from the male flower and gently dust it onto the centre of the female flower. The female flower has a swollen base that resembles a mini zucchini.
As the crop ages, the leaves become susceptible to powdery mildew. Avoid overhead watering and spray with an organic product like eco-fungicide. Lady birds also eat the fungus, weird but true.