Unique Amongst Backyard Vegetable Gardeners

I do believe that I am the only person in the history of the United States who has failed to grow zucchini.

Last year, I had seven zucchini plants (that I grew from scratch) which produced a total of zero zucchini.

Zilch on the zucchini.

In zucchini terms, that is an astounding production rate.

At the beginning of last season, people—people who don’t garden—told me “By the end of August, you’ll have so many zucchini you won’t be able to give them away.” Riiight. By the end of August, I wouldn’t go out to the garden, because I couldn’t stand facing my failure.

The zukes all started out okay, and I was like the preening rooster, crowing with delight that I had grown these zucchini plants from seed; seems I was determined to be an uber farmer, able to grow all things without knowing a single thing about growing any thing. After plantation, my little zukes looked pretty and stayed little.

Until they withered on the vine.

There are some things I have learned since last year. For instance, the size of a seedling is approximately 1/3000th the size of the actual growing plant, so don’t plant them too close together. Also, if you are going to plant zucchini into pots, like I did, plant only one in each pot.





They are so tiny, those zucchini seedlings, and since we in America love to anthropomorphize everything, I didn’t want them to be all alone in that big pot. I wanted them to have friends, to grow together and have memories of when they were no bigger than a thumb. Planting more than one zucchini in a pot just speeds up the death of all the plants. Also, only plant zucchini that is designed to be planted in a pot – another thing I learned last year.

I have learned other things only this year, like zucchini have male and female flowers, and the males open first. This creates a “path” for the bees to pollinate the female flowers.

I have discovered that there is a malevolent streak even in vegetarians, and I took, if not joy at least righteousness, in squashing cucumber beetles so that they would stop causing wilting and flower-dropping and ultimately no zucchini.

I have no idea what a zucchini plant is supposed to look like. You only see close-ups of one squash or a sweeping, zucchini-garden-wide shot. My zucchini plants have big broad leaves, and some of my flowers (the un-cumber beetled ones) are almost as long as my hand. Is that good? And if a cucumber beetle dispatches the flower after the zucchini has started growing, will the zucchini keep growing?

I don’t want a “Zucchini for Dummies” book (basically because I don’t think I’m a dummy), I want a “Step-by-Step Guide – with Pictures – on How to Grow Zucchini in Your Backyard.” But I haven’t found a book like that.

I harbor this secret desire to grow my own food in the city. I wanted to step outside the kitchen door and gently pull off the beans, tomatoes, and zucchini I would need for that night’s dinner, along with the oregano, thyme, and basil.

On the herb side, I’ve done pretty well. Seems that oregano and thyme want to be ignored and unwatered. My chives appeared to be perennial this year until I figured out that last year I forgot I had them and let them all go to seed and so up popped new chives in the old chives place. Mint turns out to be an invasive plant, sending out runners in all directions, so I had to replant in containers (makes an excellent gift, a little pot of mint).

I grew to hate my zucchini this year. I bought a little three-pot set of zucchini seedlings at a big hardware store for $1.99, and thought I got a bargain. When I started planting I discovered that I had three seedlings per pot, so I had nine zucchini plants to figure out what to do with. I should’ve thrown out six — I mean put them in the compost pile — and just stuck with the three I originally thought I had.

Zucchinis are an incredible pain to grow if you live in the city and have a little bit of garden:

  • First of all, they are big and unwieldy. You need serious material — like pipes — if you want to create a trellis for them to grow up on. Sticking a couple of bamboo stakes around a plant to keep it off the ground does nothing, especially if you don’t have a mallet and don’t whack those stakes over the head to pound them into the ground.
  • Second of all, zucchini get powdery mildew, which just makes them ugly (even if you do spray with the recommended baking soda/dishwashing liquid/water concoction). Then are the damnable cucumber beetles, although many people get squash vine borers that you literally have to carve out of the vine its in. All a disgusting business, really.

I finally threw in the towel with seven of them. They weren’t in the right place (not enough sun), they didn’t get enough water (hmm…), they took up way more space than I thought they would, and THEY DIDN’T PRODUCE FRUIT. Okay, I’m sure it was me not properly helping them produce fruit, but argh, I was getting tired of feebly trying to get anywhere with them.

I got three edible-but-not-recognizable zucchinis from them, but they were small and completely misshapen. If you ever want to see the effects of watering/not watering, water your zucchini plants after you haven’t done so for a week; the things will swell right in the middle and look like a balloon that hasn’t been stretched out before being blown up. I got three of them, no bigger than my hand, and we ate them, and then I took out the plants (yes, they were composted).

So of course the hard vegetable, the tomatoes, have been a doddle this year. We had so much rain that watering was not required. The dreaded potato blight passed over our yard, just like the pestilential death of the first-born son passing over the Jewish houses with the lamb’s blood daubed on the front door.¬†And if you think I am being too histrionic in my comparison of my healthy tomatoes to non-dead first-born Jewish sons, you have never tried to grow tomatoes in your backyard.

So I’ve got tomatoes, and chives, and oregano, and basil (but you have to water basil). We’ve got some butterfly bushes that the bees really like. The blue jays like the peanuts I put out, and the cardinals are grateful for the safflower seeds.

Everybody seems to have enough.

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