Big leaves and big plants, zucchinis stand tall in the garden. Now is the time to plant out members of the cucurbit family and zucchinis are one of the easiest to plant and take care of. They can provide us with both fruit and flowers for eating. The zucchini flower is a delicacy.
They need to have lots of sunshine and be growing in warm soil. Now that frosts are uncommon, it is safe to plant out the seeds into a well prepared garden bed, loaded with plenty of compost to allow the roots of the plants to feed well.
Zucchinis will germinate in 8-10 days and the first leaves are quite large. Under good growing conditions you can pick your first zucchini flowers in six weeks and harvest the zucchinis within seven weeks.
The plants produce both male and female flowers and there will generally be a good surplus of the smaller male flowers sitting on long stems.
Select some of these flowers for the kitchen and cut the stem around 20 centimetres from the flower; always leave some to pollinate the female flowers. If at any time you need one or two more flowers, select those female flowers where the zucchini has fully set with its little bulging fruit and gently twist off.
I am always interested in growing the unusual varieties of plants. The Costa Romanesque zucchini is an Italian heritage bush variety with prominent ribs along its light green skin. When cooked it has something of a nutty flavour. This variety produces a prolific crop of male flowers if you wish to have a good supply throughout the summer.
The golden zucchini offers a distinct colour to kitchen dishes, such as ratatouille. It can be grated raw into salads and cooked in many dishes. I have found the production levels to be lower than the green varieties.
Now is the time to plant zucchinis as the risk of heavy frosts abate. Photo: Ursula Alter
Blackjack and black beauty are the well known dark green coloured zucchinis with smooth skin. They are fast growing and produce many zucchinis over several weeks. The bushes are semi upright so that you can harvest the fruit very easily.
My favourite is the heirloom Cocozella di Napoli with its pale green skin broken up by the dark green ribs. The fruit is very tender and it can produce a crop in around six weeks, when the weather is quite warm.
Zucchinis need lots of food and water particularly at the time when the flowers are appearing and the fruits start to form. Mulch around the plants to keep the moisture in. Provide then with a supplement of liquid seaweed fertiliser every fortnight as they grow. And make sure you have built up the garden bed and provided good drainage as they do not want to become waterlogged.
Allow plenty of space between each plant, at least 80 cm and if possible even 1 metre. Strong growing plants will produce an abundance of big leaves on long stems, so if they are growing too close together, it will be impossible to get among the plants at harvest time.
This vegetable can produce one zucchini every two days so you will need to keep on top of things, when the harvest time comes. Having a garden with six to eight plants will be sufficient to feed a middle-sized family. If you have a bigger garden, then you can supply your whole neighbourhood.
Older zucchini plants become susceptible to powdery mildew and the production will fall away. So to have a good supply of zucchinis in autumn, plan to plant out a second crop in late January.
Photo: Getty Images
Stuffed zucchini flowers
12 zucchini flowers with attached baby zucchini
4 tsp olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tbs fresh thyme, chopped
2 free-range eggs
400g Roma tomatoes, diced
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a small saucepan, over medium heat. Add in the onion and garlic and saute until tender. Add in the breadcrumbs and thyme and stir well until the breadcrumbs have browned then remove from heat.
Lightly beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl and then add in the breadcrumb mixture, along with the diced tomatoes and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Carefully detach the stamen from inside each zucchini flower, ensuring not to tear the actual flower. Then carefully place two teaspoons of the stuffing inside each blossom. Lightly oil the base of a large baking dish and place the zucchini flowers side by side in the baking dish. Sprinkle any remaining breadcrumb mixture on top of the layered flowers, along with some salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover the bottom of the tray with a thin layer of water. Drizzle a little olive oil over the flowers and bake in the oven at 170C for 30-40 minutes until the zucchinis are tender.
This week in the garden
* Plant out radish, rocket, parsley, basil, silverbeet and spinach direct into the garden.
* Prepare a garden bed with lots of compost and added fertilisers to plant out sweet corn.
* Continue to plant out potatoes in long rows or in cylinders made with old tires and filled with compost. When the shoots begin to appear add more soil and straw to cover. This will help to grow a larger crop.
* As well as zucchinis, plant out cucumbers and pumpkins into raised beds filled with lots of compost to allow the roots to grow deeply and draw up many nutrients.
* Harvest your early, young shoots of asparagus. Hill up the bank around the bushes to produce thicker, white spears.
* Mulch all of your garden beds to protect from the heat of the sun and to help retain moisture.
Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.