Hats off to zucchinis — they really know how to keep gardeners well fed. Not only bountiful from summer to autumn, they are also fast croppers. Generally, their overabundance means gardeners have excess fruit to give away.
Zucchinis are part of the pumpkin and squash tribe and, like those prolific vegetables, they originated from the Americas.
Zucchinis form a large-leafed vine with a prickly stem that sprawls out across the garden over summer. While they take up space, their growth has the bonus of deterring weeds.
The real excitement starts as the yellow flowers appear among the leaves. These flowers are either male or female and both are needed to form a zucchini.
Although the flowers look alike, the difference is that the centre of the male flower is filled with pollen-coated stamens and is held on a narrow stem; the female has a single sticky pistil inside the flower and a small swollen base below that forms the fruit.
Bees and other pollinating insects carry pollen from the male to female flowers.
Fresh flowers open each day, usually with both male and female flowers blooming together. However, as the flowers are generally only open for a day, timing is critical. If a female flower isn’t fertilised it may begin to form a zucchini which then turns brown and aborts at just a few centimetres in length. If nature doesn’t get it right and there’s a lack of male flowers on the day the female flower blooms, or there are no pollinating insects about, the flowers can be hand-pollinated.
Use pollen saved from the previous day or, if the problem is a lack of bees, transfer pollen from a male flower to a female one using a small paintbrush or cotton bud, as shown opposite.
These setbacks mainly occur early in the season. As summer progresses, flowering becomes better coordinated, the bees discover the flowers and fruit is abundant.
AS SUMMER PROGRESSES, FLOWERING BECOMES BETTER COORDINATED, THE BEES DISCOVER THE FLOWERS AND FRUIT IS ABUNDANT.
Common name: Zucchini, courgette
Botanical name: Cucurbita pepo
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