CO-Horts

CO-Horts

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Resolution to Return to Greatness...Zucchini-style

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

For three years I was the biggest zucchini champion at the Larimer County Fair (2012-2014). This title comes with a $2 premium and admiration from my chickens, who enjoy eating giant squash.

But in 2015, I was dethroned by Master Gardener Loni...and in 2016, I was again trumped by Master Gardener Tina. Loni was Tina's mentor for her first year in the program...coincidence? I think not.
Loni, on left, giant zucchini champ in 2015; Tina, on right, champ in 2016.
Tina really did grow a monster!
Most people will tell you I'm competitive. They are correct. I love the thrill of the win...and the joy of competition. But it's all in good fun. And growing enormous vegetables puts my horticulture skills to the test. So my resolution for 2017 is to regain the Biggest Zucchini title. I've already started researching and scheming.

Last year I thought I had the competition in the bag. I bought heirloom zucchini seeds, known to grow whopper fruit ('Crostata Romanesco'). These are a marrow type of zucchini. I ran a separate drip line to the plant and caged it in to protect it from nosy beagles. Maybe I started the seeds too early...maybe the soil was too cold when I transplanted...maybe pollination was poor. At any rate, I had puny zukes all of July and as the Fair approached, I started to panic. Fortunately, one fruit started to develop, but it was too little, too late. My zuke weighed in at a paltry five pounds (Tina's was over nine). Fail.

But the great thing about competition is you always learn something. No more fancy cultivars for me...I'm going to stick with the tried and true 'Black Beauty'. The one you see for sale in the grocery stores. The beauty of...ahem...Black Beauty is that she often produces fruit that hide under the leaves. These are the baseball bats you unearth when weeding. And more often than not, they are larger than the one you can visibly see and are grooming for competition. This actually happens with most squash, but it's always fun to find them.
Black Beauty zucchini (photo courtesy of Burpee Seeds; burpee.com)
In my research, THE place to grow giant vegetables is Alaska. Their state fair is chock full of huge vegetables that will boggle the mind. For example, their current green zucchini champion weighed in at 29 pounds and has held the record since 1995. TWENTY NINE POUNDS! Imagine dropping that on your neighbor's doorstep.

Now, Alaska seems like an unlikely place to grow giants. But while they have a short season, they have gobs of daylight for most of the summer. For example, in Barrow, Alaska (the most northern town in the state), you have 80 days of uninterrupted daylight. (Think of all the rounds of golf you could play in a day!) In the southern part of Alaska, you can get 17-19 hours of daylight from May to July.

So I need long days and a good cultivar. I also need to remember to fertilize. Fertilizer is my biggest weakness....I never remember. I also should water more regularly, since growing giant vegetables takes water. I assume I'm like many gardeners...I am gung-ho and excited in May and my enthusiasm wanes by July when it's hot and I just want to observe the garden from my air conditioned house.

In a perfect world, I would install a high tunnel. Or a small greenhouse. But even I have limits. And a budget. Because again...winning only yields $2! I feel like I'm living that book The $64 Tomato.

I'm not going to reveal all my plans, lest another Master Gardener get the giant vegetable bug, but just know...I have plans. And I will once again reign over Larimer County as the Squash Princess. Does anyone have a good zucchini bread recipe?
So long, small zucchini!

8 comments:

  1. Delightful post and photo Alison! Always enjoy your articles! Good luck with your giant zucchini this year!
    ... Vicky Spelman, CMG - Jefferson County Extension

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  2. Good luck, Alison. I will expect some zucchini bread if you win.

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  3. Good luck, Alison. I will expect some zucchini bread if you win.

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  4. As Superintendent of the Open Hort. classes at the Larimer Cty. Fair, I encourage all of you to take on Alison's challenge! $2...Ha! We can sweeten the pot for the heaviest zucchini. Besides, I really like zucchini bread, too.��

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  5. Alison, it sounds like you need my "Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening" book. The chapter on squash has all the best practices for growing giant summer squash and giant marrows, too.

    Best of luck,
    Jodi Torpey

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  6. Thanks Jodi! I'm buying it now!

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