(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
GARDENING IN SITKA
By Lori Adams
EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING ZUCCHINI
Oh, zucchini …. the “hit or miss” crop. Some years it does fantastic and you start to think that you’re an expert, and then the next year it totally fails and you realize that you know nothing.
I DO know that zucchini plants hate to get wet, that almost all varieties need insects to pollinate them to produce fruit, and that the plants do best in warm weather. The best zucchini plants I’ve seen in town have been grown under some sort of clear roofing with open sides. The roofing lets in the sun but protects the plants from rain. The open sides allow the wind to blow through (reducing mildew and rot), and gives the insects access to the blossoms.
If you grow yours outside don’t expect the plants to get huge and sprawl across the garden like they do in a greenhouse or down south — they will probably only get big enough to take up about nine square feet. I grow mine in black plastic longline tubs on a shelf that runs the length of my house. They are under the eaves which gives them a little protection from bad weather.
Zucchini is a heavy feeder so prep your bed or pots with plenty of nitrogen rich fertilizer (fish carcasses or compost). It also needs potassium to produce healthy fruit (seaweed) and plenty of lime (sea shell sand). Early April is the time to start seeds indoors. This is where I often run into trouble.
This year I planted my seeds in seedling trays in the sunroom and none of them germinated. TWICE. I figured there must be something wrong with the seeds and did a germination test (sandwiched seeds between damp paper towels in an open Ziplock bag in the warm kitchen) and ALL of the seeds germinated. Once they germinated I carefully planted them into the seedling trays and then they did really well! (If the sprouts were stuck to the paper towel I just cut around them with a scissors and planted the whole thing.) I have decided that from now on this is how I am going to germinated zucchini seeds every year. Once the seedlings have been planted into trays they can be placed in a cooler environment, but they still do not like to be really cold.
Zucchini seedlings can be transplanted outdoors in early May. Handle them very carefully because they hate to be transplanted. If you are planting in tubs be sure to make a depression in the soil, dig a hole in the bottom of the depression and then plant the seedling in the hole up to its first set of true leaves.
Tubs have a tendency to dry out really quickly, so the depression can help channel the water to the roots rather than just running out between the soil and the sides of the tub. It’s a good idea to add a 3-4 inch layer of seaweed as mulch on top of the soil to help retain moisture, but be sure it doesn’t touch the seedlings possibly causing them to rot. If you are planting in the ground then catching water is not as critical.
It’s really important to protect the seedlings from the cold. I cut the bottoms off of plastic milk jugs and place the tops over the seedlings (with the lids off) like little miniature greenhouses and then cover the entire bed with floating row cover that is held up by hoops. When the plants grow big enough to “fill” the milk jugs I take them off but continue to use floating row cover. Once the plants start to blossom I remove the row cover, but have it handy for cold nights or really bad weather. If you keep your blossoming plants covered the insects will not be able to pollinate the blossoms and you will not get any zucchinis to mature.
Each zucchini plant produces both male and female flowers. The male flowers grow on long skinny stems and the female flowers grow at the end of tiny baby zucchinis that are on short squatty stems. The blossoms are only open for about a day or two and if the female flower does not get pollinated during this time the baby zucchini will start to wither and then die. If this keeps happening you could try to hand pollinate by breaking off a male flower, pulling back it’s petals and rubbing a little bit of it’s pollen inside a couple of female flowers. Some people chose to grow “self-pollinating” varieties to eliminate this problem.
Once the blossoms have closed they are of no use to the plant and should be removed, but be sure they are “ready” to come off. Gently break them off sideways with your fingers. If they don’t want to come off easily then just wait a day or two otherwise you might break off the entire tip of the zucchini and ruin it.
Zucchini blossoms are edible and quite delicious when stuffed with cheese, dredged in flour and fried in butter. But be sure to leave them on the plant until they have done their job! Zucchinis are edible at any stage of maturity, but it seems like a waste to eat them when they are tiny. On the other hand it is not good to leave them on the plant until they get huge because the plant will think it has done its job and will stop producing fruit. For best results harvest all the zucchinis that are over nine inches long and then your plants will keep producing fruit until the first frost kills the plant.
Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden
2103 Sawmill Creek Road
Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
747-6108 or 738-2241