Monday, September 16, 2013

Perils of Growing Zucchini

For some gardeners, growing zucchini  is an effortless task, the end result being zucchini bread, zucchini cake, zucchini pancakes, zucchini salad,  baked zucchini, broiled zucchini, fried zucchini, etc., etc. Having lived in California, I know this to be true.  Living in the tropics, on the other hand, is a different story. Here is mine:

My first attempt at growing zucchini squash failed because a bird or rat stole the seed. Then I planted the seeds in small containers and placed them in a netted area waiting to be transplanted. On my second attempt, the plants grew well but finally died, succumbing to the powdery mildew (PM) fungus. Next, I planted PM resistant varieties. This helped, but I still needed to use fungicidal sprays such as horticultural oil, Serenade and/or baking soda. See this website for more information on powdery mildew. This points out that the word ‘resistant’ means just that; it doesn't mean immune! It could also mean that in tests, the resistant variety simply did ‘better’ than nonresistant varieties.

Well, the bird or rat problem seemed resolved; the PM problem was addressed, more or less, and a new crop was growing well. The plants were blooming, and small fruit developing on the plant, but then they dropped off. This was an attack of the pickleworm! So I threw some ¾ inch bird netting over the plants. This will keep most of the pickleworm moths out but allowed bees to come in and pollinate.

When the zucchini was nearly ripe, I observed that the whole plant was dying with what appeared to be a virus, one of several that attack squash: squash mosaic virus SMV, cucumber mosaic virus CMV and watermelon mosaic virus WMV. These different viruses are transmitted by insects which feed on virus-infected squash plants or some nearby weeds. Once the plants are infected, there is nothing that can be done. The virus  will eventually kill the plant. Symptoms include distortion of the leaves, chlorotic (yellow) mottling and a dark green mosaic pattern. Infected fruit coming from such plants show a strong mottled pattern. The best preventive measures include insect control along with host weed management.

Note: Squash, along with melons and cucumbers (cucurbits) are unique vegetable plants that bear two kinds of flowers on the same plant, male and female.  In order to produce fruit, the pollen from the male flower must be transferred to the female flower.  Insects do the major pollination work.  Female flowers can easily be distinguished from the male by the presence of a miniature fruit at the base of the flower. 

Sometimes gardeners are concerned because none of the first blooms produce any fruit.  This is because the first flowers produced on the plants will be male and cannot give forth fruit. In time female flowers, and subsequent fruit, will be produced.

Unfortunately,  zucchini is one vegetable I will not be planting in the future.