Zucchini is Easy

A recent e-mail served as a reminder that zucchini squash is one of the easiest plants to grow.
Many of the fruits and vegetables we harvest in our back yards are smaller than the versions we see of them at the supermarket. Yet without even trying, you can grow zucchini fruits far bigger than the supermarket models. Ironically, zucchini is tastier when harvested earlier in its development, at about the size you see it in the supermarket produce department, at the stage where you can pierce through its skin with your thumbnail.
Any fairly soft garden soil will support the growth of zucchini. Just give it lots of room to spread as single plants can eventually occupy a 20- square-foot space. Here’s the e-mail I received from Carol Tidwell of Reseda:
“I have a small patch of ground in my front yard where I plant a garden every year. I plant tomatoes every year and usually zucchini squash, also. All I planted this year is tomatoes and bell peppers, but I noticed lots of squash plants coming up. I recognized the big, rough leaves and yellow flowers, so I left some of them while weeding. I am getting fruit from these squash plants. They are similar in color to the zucchini but they are perfectly round and when I cut them open, they look and smell like cucumber. One of the plants produced fruit that looked like cantaloupe on the outside (rough skin) but when it was cut open, it also looked and smelled like cucumber. Do you know what these could be and would you say they were edible?”
Assuming you did not harvest all of your zucchini, and allowed some of the fruit to decompose in your garden, the unusual looking plants you describe probably grew from seeds left behind by your zucchini squash. The fruit you now see, although edible, may be of dubious quality.
Zucchini belongs to a family of plants known as cucurbits. Cucurbits – which, botanically speaking, are fruits – include all types of squash and pumpkins, as well as all types of melons and cucumbers. Thus, it makes sense that traits of cantaloupe and cucumber should appear in your mystery fruit.
Seeds from your garden-grown zucchini squash will develop into plants that could produce fruit of unexpected appearance and quality. These fruit will probably resemble those found on their “grandparents.” Of course, whenever you plant seeds, there is always the possibility of getting something new. Many new varieties of fruits and vegetables have been discovered by backyard gardeners who planted seeds from store-bought produce.
In order to get predictable hybrid seed, different types of squash are grown in separate, open-pollinated fields that are isolated from one another. The cross-pollination between them that produces the hybrid seeds is done with human assistance. In fact, if you want to harvest squash whose seeds will produce plants with squash like that of the parents, you should plant open-pollinated varieties. The disadvantages of open-pollinated varieties, as opposed to hybrids, are their susceptibility to disease and insect problems and their short shelf life. The advantages of open-pollinated varieties are the consistent characteristics of the fruit from one generation to the next.
An Internet search of “open-pollinated varieties” will reveal many sources for this type of seed. Seeds of Change (www.store.yahoo.com/seedsofchange!off!) carries open-pollinated varieties only. You can receive a free catalog from them by calling (888) 762-7333.
TIP OF THE WEEK: A local native plant known as wild cucumber or manroot (Marah fabaceous) is thought to be the ancestor of the cultivated cucurbits. The plant is easily identified by its rampant growth in the spring and its spiny globular fruit. Left unchecked, it can grow up to 20 feet in a single season. The only way to eliminate it from the garden is by digging up this tuber.

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