Plant of the week: Zucchini

The zucchini, or courgette, is a fast-growing variety of summer squash.  Its flavour is mild, so it takes on the taste of whatever delicious sauce or stir-fry you add it to. Better yet, you can grate it and add it to baked goods, improving their moisture and introducing added nutrients, such as manganese, vitamins A and C, and dietary fiber.

Ideal growing conditions

Zucchini prefers full sun or some shade.  To prepare a site for it, dig a hole about a foot across and a foot deep, and fill it with mature compost so that it forms a slight mound.  After all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has warmed, plant a few seeds an inch deep and a few inches apart in the mound.  There are two main types of zucchini plants–bush and vine.  Vine zucchini mounds should be a few feet apart; bush plants can grow closer together.

Zucchinis need consistent moisture, so ensure that they are well watered until the plant begins to produce fruits.  They have distinct male and female flowers, and are pollinated by insects.  Zucchini fruits generally grow quite quickly in succession.

Types

As mentioned above, there are two types of plants–bush and vine.  The colour of the skin may vary from dark green to gold; some varieties are striped or patterned.

Harvesting, using, and preserving

Harvest zucchinis when they are 4-8 inches long and about two inches in diameter.  If they grow too big, don’t worry–the larger specimens are ideal for grating and adding to bakes goods (core them before grating them if the seeds are too coarse).

Avoid the temptation to break these tender fruits off the plant; they may break or bruise.  Instead, cut them off with a sharp knife.

Before freezing zucchini, you can slice and blanch it, or simply grate it.  It can be used fresh in a variety of sauces and dishes, and grilled on the BBQ.  There are many ways to preserve it, such as in zucchini relishes and even zucchini marmalade!

Friends

  • Corn
  • Beans
  • Herbs
  • Radishes

Foes

  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins

Fun facts

  • The flowers of the zucchini are often sautéed or stuffed.  They also make pretty and edible garnishes.
  • Zucchinis have more potassium than bananas, and just 25 calories.
  • The largest zucchini on record was 69 1/2 inches long and 65 lbs in weight!

Sweetening tomato sauce naturally

Many recipes for canned tomato sauce call for two ingredients: tomatoes and lemon juice.  The latter is added to “acidify” the tomatoes; insufficient acidity could possibly (though very rarely) cause botulism.  A side-effect of adding lemon juice is that your sauce may be a tad bitter.  You may be tempted to add sugar to it when you use it, to make it taste more like commercial tomato sauces, which contain sugar.

There is much healthier way to add sweetness to your tomato sauce: zucchini!  Zucchini is full of nutrients and though it doesn’t have a lot of flavour, it does have a mild sweetness that really comes out when you add it (grated and frozen) to your sauce.  It breaks down so easily that the fussiest eaters don’t even notice the secret ingredient.  🙂

Homemade tomato sauce base

(for lasagne, chili, pasta dishes, etc.)

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil
  • Garlic cloves, chopped
  • Onions, peeled and diced
  • Homemade canned tomato sauce
  • Frozen, grated zucchini
  • Frozen tomatoes

To prepare:

  • In a saucepan, heat the oil, then add the garlic and onions and cook them until they are translucent.
  • Run the frozen tomatoes under warm water, or place them in a bowl of warm water.  Rub the skins, and they’ll easily peel off.
  • Add frozen zucchini.
  • Cook with the lid on until the tomatoes and zucchini have thawed and the sauce is hot, then add the other ingredients needed to complete your dish.

What’s the secret ingredient in your tomato sauce?

 

The great zupumpkin!

In one of my first small gardens, I planted a pumpkin plant and a zucchini plant next to each other.  I didn’t save any of their seeds, but the next year, when I spotted a pumpkin plant coming up from the compost, I let it grow.  It started out looking like a bit like an elongated pumpkin or some sort of squash.  Then it ripened to the above specimen, which was christened the zupumpkin.

Cross-pollination

Cross-pollination occurs when an insect or the wind carries pollen from one variety of plant to another.  The resulting seed, when planted, sprouts a hybrid of its parents.  Since zucchini and pumpkins are both varieties of the same species, they can create the zupumkin (or zumption or pumcchini–your choice) but a cucumber and squash can’t procreate because they’re different species.

Cross-pollination does not affect the current year’s crop, but rather the next year–with one exception: corn.  If the pollen from the tassels of one variety of corn are blown into the silks from another variety, the cob that develops is a hybrid.

Self-pollinating plants

Vegetables like beans, peas, peanuts, eggplant, peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes are self-pollinating. Their seeds will produce plants like the parent, but insects will occasionally cross them, so if you want to be absolutely certain that your seeds will grow true to type, plant each variety at least 10 feet apart.

Insect- and wind-pollinated plants

Vegetables that are pollinated by insects or wind need to be separated by variety, and grown a distance apart (the distance varies with each type of plant).   To ensure that your seeds grow true to type, grow one variety of each type, or separate the different varieties.

Vegetables that willingly cross-breed

The following plants or plant families are prone to cross-pollination.  If you are planting them with the intention of keeping their seeds, keep varieties well separated.

  • Beets and Swiss chard
  • Cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, and broccoli
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Honeydew, cantaloupe, and other melons, excluding watermelons
  • Peppers (hot and sweet)
  • Squash (some varieties)
  • Zucchini and pumpkins