Monday, February 15, 2010

Vegetable Profile: Zucchini

By Nina Berryman

These plants are some of the most prolific on our farm. Walk down to the bottom left corner of the field and you’ll see their gigantic leaves. Their large, orange flowers are the most eye-catching blooms open right now. In common vernacular, zucchini belong to the category of summer squash. Also in this category are patty pan squash (the round ones) and crook neck squash, all of which you are receiving right now in your shares. Under the category of patty pan, crookneck, and zucchini are many different sub-varieties. Summer squash are distinguished from winter squash in that winter squash store well and can be eaten in the winter. They both grow during the summer, however summer squash start producing in early summer and winter squash in late summer.

The Latin name for zucchini is Cucurbita pepo. They belong to the family Cucurbitaceae , which is often Anglicized and referred to as the “cucurbit” family. Species of this family are as abundant as the individual plants themselves. Members of Cucurbitaceae have been found in every country of the world. The Cucurbita genus is thought to have originated in the warm regions of South, Central and North America. All members of the Cucurbitaceae family have tendrils and almost all of the cucurbits are heat-loving. This is one of the reasons we have black plastic on the ground under these plants- to heat up the soil. Species of the Cucurbita genus have very prickly leaves and stems, so be sure to wear long sleeves and pants when harvesting! Each plant produces both male and female flowers (this is known as a monoecious plant). These flowers are insect pollinated. The bees especially love them, so if you are nervous around bees be careful while harvesting squash! The groundhogs also love summer squash, so we cover the plants with row cover to protect them when they are small. We have to keep a watchful eye for when the flowers open though, because as soon as they do we need to uncover the plants to make sure the insects can get to them. After the insects pollinate the flowers, the females are the ones that produce the zucchinis. You can often find little zucchinis swelling under the petals of a female flower. This is the quickest way to determine whether a flower is male or female on a squash plant (assuming it has already been fertilized, of course). As I’m sure you all know from the recipe in last week’s newsletter, these flowers are edible and quite tasty!

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