The birds, the bees, and…zucchini?

unproductive zucchini

The reason I grow herbs is because they thrive on neglect and poor growing conditions.  They are basically edible weeds.  The reason I grow herbs outside is so that God can intervene on their behalf.  Vegetables, on the other hand, must have their needs met in order to be fruitful:  sunshine and space and proper soil.  They suffer from bugs and fungi and burrowing critters and need an actual human gardener to diagnose and fix their problems. 

So, my zucchini has a problem.  It is not producing zucchini.  It is August and there should be baseball bat sized zucchini hiding under those enormous leaves.  But alas, just blossoms.  Kristin, who just ripped out her unproductive zucchini plants, suggests that my zucchini has a sex problem. 

 Zucchini, unlike the tomato, has male and female flowers.    The male flowers are big and showy and stick up on flower stems.  The female flowers are lower to the ground and have as their base the beginning of an actual zucchini.  The female flowers are dependent on bees to pollinate their flowers in order for the zucchini to grow.  No bees, no pollination, no zucchini.  The solution is for the gardener to pollinate the flowers–kind of an artificial insemination, if you will. 

I would take pictures of this, but this is NOT my zucchini’s problem.  We have bees all over the place.  With four hives just down the hill, we have thousands and thousands of honey bees.  Then there are the numerous bumble bees (which is what I usually find buzzing by the veggie garden), wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, and some funky fly creature that only hangs out on the mint.  Do hummingbirds and  butterflies count?  We’ve got them too.  There is no lack of plant sex going on.

Ah, but disease…that’s “a whole nother thing.”  Zucchini is very susceptible to powdery mildew, a fungus which attacks the leaves and causes the plant to wither.  Baltimore has the perfect humid conditions for this.  Add a location in a  corner behind the cucumbers where the rain gushes off the house and washes the mulch away and the plant makes a desperate push forward for more sunshine.  As it pushes foward, it drapes mildewy leaves all over the cucumber.  Poor cuke…was doing so well.  The solution is either to rip out the plants or do surgery.  I choose surgery.  All the icky leaves must go.  This pretty much decimates the cucumber, but reveals some healthy-looking zucchini leaves and blossoms.

The next step is little “chemo.”  Milk, apparently, provides not only acid to counteract the fungus but vitamins to boost the immune system of the plant.  I prepare a solution of 1 part 1% milk to 5 parts water and spray it all over the zucchini and cucumber–getting both sides of the leaves.  The cat is fascinated by the process.  So, we’ll see.  It’s probably too late to help this year., but no harm trying.  Next year, I’ll put the cukes in back, where they can climb their stakes and see the sun.

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