10 September 2008

the tale of the twenty-five dollar zucchini

You may remember that I was attempting to grow zucchini in a container on my back step this summer. Let me tell you the story of my zucchini plant and why my ambition to be a gardener will be a long, hard, uphill battle.

First I should explain that I come from a family of farmers. Well, okay, one farmer, my grandfather, and he had a dairy farm, but I do have many relatives who are good with plants, including my sisters and my mother. When I was young, after my grandfather retired from dairy farming, he kept a small garden in the front yard. I vividly remember eating carrots pulled straight from the ground with dirt still clinging to them, and gobbling garden-fresh green beans.* But the zucchini -- it was my grandfather's zucchinis that were truly spectacular. My sister would collect zucchinis as long as our forearms and twice as thick around, and bake loaves of her famous zucchini bread.

So I've been a big zucchini fan since childhood. For the last several years I've loaded up on the cheap, abundant, enormous zucchinis from the farmer's market and made zucchini bread, zucchini brownies, zucchini cupcakes, zucchini stir-fries, zucchini fritters, zucchini lasagna, and so on and so forth. I have, over the years, collected an impressive number of recipes in which zucchini is the featured ingredient. So imagine my happiness when a friend of mine called early in the summer and offered me some zucchini seedlings.

He brought over three little seedlings for me one night, and I went to the local gardening store a couple of days later to buy a gigantic planter and pounds and pounds of dirt in which to plant my little seedlings.

"Do you think this is going to be worth it?" Greg asked when I came home, my wallet twenty-five dollars lighter.

"Sure!" I said. "Zucchini plants produce ridiculous amounts of zucchini. They're unstoppable!" I had big plans, big hopes and dreams for these little seedlings. No more supporting the local farmers for me -- I was going to be a local farmer!

So I planted my three tiny little seedling, and one died almost instantly. That's okay, I thought, there are two more. That's more than enough. And my two remaining seedlings began to flourish. I was excited, watching the leaves grow bigger and broader, watching the big yellow flowers begin to develop. Then my first little zucchini fruit began to appear, and I took photos and posted about it on my blog, because, look! I'm growing food!

And that first little zucchini, once it got to be about four inches long, inexplicably began to rot and die. I scoured the internet for advice, and then, before I could self-diagnose and treat my plant, it grew another zucchini. This one grew into a beautiful shiny ten-inch vegetable before I plucked it and turned it into soup. Now there was no stopping my zucchini plant.

Perhaps I should stop here for a moment to note that part of the reason I was so excited to grow my own zucchini is because all those green-thumb genes I mentioned above are apparently recessive in me. I like plants, but really only do well with those that tolerate neglect. I might describe my thumb as a sort of sickly yellowish color with accents of brown on the edges -- which, incidentally, is the color the leaves of my zucchini plant began to turn shortly after I harvested that first perfect fruit.

I plucked off the dead leaves, I treated my plant for powdery mildew, I moved it to the front of the house where it could get more sunlight, and my efforts almost worked. The plant produced a few more zucchini, but every one rotted and died on the vine. The leaves recovered and are again a healthy, happy green, and there are still a couple of flowers, cheerful and sunshine-colored, but there are no more little zucchinis beginning to grow, and I suspect there will be no more this season.

So my first food-gardening experiment yielded one zucchini. One twenty-five dollar zucchini. Meanwhile, over the course of the summer when I was too impatient to wait for my own plant to mature, I continued buying zucchini from the market. Four for a dollar, for zucchinis as long as my children's limbs and twice as fat around.

I think next year I'll stick with the farmer's market.
*Every grandchild was affixed with an identifying label, growing up. My sisters were saddled with animals: one was known to love butterflies, and the other, elephants. Not that they actually loved these animals, but that was my grandmother's pronouncement, and once decided, these preferences were all but carved into stone. Christmas presents were very predictable. Me, I was known for loving green beans. Since green beans don't translate well into Christmas gifts, I ended up with random unpredictable items, such as dolphin figurines. I think I'd have liked the green beans better, personally.


Jaimelyn said...

ha, ha! peter shares your pain! his story is identical to yours! you should make him give you $25!

kim said...

Zucchini aren't meant to grow in pots - they're meant to grow free in the ground - it's not your fault they died. Don't let this one incident make you doubt your green thumb - try your luck at an outdoor garden someday with a variety of veggies and you're bound to end up with something edible.

melissa said...

sorry the zucchini didn't work out. maybe try something more exotic and pricey next year? perhaps an avacado plant?

i tried your zucchini stew. it was a hit. thanks for the recipe.