Thursday, June 21, 2012

Zucchini Time Is Here Again!

It's always a thrill when the first zucchini blossom of the summer season opens for business! Adding to the thrill is the mysterious identity of this year's first bloom.

Some weeks back at Green String Farm I was looking over a long wooden table of seedlings: squash and melons with generic labels like "zucchini" or "cantaloupe." The young intern on duty couldn't tell me which variety of zucchini was being offered for sale. "I think it's one of the round kind, but I'm not sure," she said. "It could be one of the long kind."

Just starting your internship, eh? I thought to myself. No matter -- the timing was right, the garden space was available, I love trying a new type of plant, and we all need to support the next generation of idealistic farmers. I bought two sturdy seedlings and, on May 12, transplanted them into one of the cucurbit beds in the northwest corner of the garden.

On June 19 the first sunshine yellow crepe paper blossom unfurled at the end of its long thin stem -- a lone male flower, testing the summer air of this new season.

As yet unopened, the first mysterious female flower was a tight green bud with a baby zucchini, distinctively round, at its base. So, it's one of the round kind -- but which one? I decided to let it grow a bit before beginning my online research.

The neighboring bed with three plants of Emperor's Jade zucchini from Sweetwater Nursury via Whole Foods was also planted on May 12. Nothing was blooming yet but a baby zucchini was in evidence beneath a bud furled tight as a folded umbrella.

By the next morning, June 20, the mystery squash had opened its first female flower.

And the Emperor's golden flags were flying too, both male and female standards.

Male flowers on both varieties are quite similar in the formation of the anthers, the pollen bearing parts, but there are subtle differences in the convoluted surfaces of the female stigmas, which receive the pollen.

So far it's a good year for zucchini, unlike last summer's spider mite disaster, a most demoralizing episode. I had to buy zucchini for green soup, feeling very furtive about it. If you can't grow zucchini you might as well turn in your trowel.

I think we will be able to pass the zucchini test this year.

Data from the last several seasons shows a pretty consistent pattern of growth even though I planted different varieties each year: Seedlings set in the ground in early May start to bloom about a month later, more or less. Perhaps, all in all, it doesn't matter a lot whether it's the round kind or the long kind. Zucchini is zucchini is zucchini. But that won't stop me from tracking down the mystery squash, for the record.

Seedlings planted:

2009 May 10 (Green Racer)
2010 Not sure, but later than May 10 (Green Bush)
2011 May 8 (Cocozelle, Zephyr)
2012 May 12 (mystery squash, Emperor's Jade)

First blossom:

2009 June 8

2010 June 13
2011 June 12
2012 June 19 (mystery squash); June 20 (Emperor's Jade)

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