Our zucchini plants brought in their first good-sized zucchini two weeks ago. The plants were huge – the biggest I’d ever seen – and they were loaded with flowers. I was relieved we’d only planted the two; well, actually, I’d only planted one of the little seedling pots, but there were two sprouts in it that I couldn’t separate so I decided to just leave them be and end up with two plants instead of the one I’d intended. I didn’t think we could absorb more zucchini than that without having to resort to pawning them off on unsuspecting neighbors; and two weeks ago, looking at the crop of flowers starting to bloom, it looked like I was right.
Then something odd happened. The flowers were blooming fine, but rather than forming new baby zucchini…the blooms were just dropping off on the ground and leaving empty stalks.
Dad and I discussed the problem. “The plants look beautiful,” I said. “No wilting, no fungus, no yellow leaves, nothing. There doesn’t look to be anything wrong. Could the squirrels be nipping them off?”
“They do things like that,” Dad said. “Maybe we should net the plant.”
“That should work,” I agreed.
As a side note, sharing the garden with Dad has been terrific. I’m used to growing a garden where I do most of the gardening. Between Dad and Ben, I’ve barely pulled a weed this summer; and all I have to do is say, “yes, let’s net the zucchini” and the next thing you know, Dad’s out there with a roll of netting enclosing the plants. I’m going to get really lazy at this rate.
For the next week, I kept watching the flowers; but I made a big mistake at this point. I contented myself that we’d solved the problem with the squirrel hypothesis and I did not closely examine the plants. I also didn’t snip off the stalks from the flowers that had dropped, so I really had no way of knowing if the new flowers were dropping too.
Don’t ever do this with vegetables. They die or lose their crop way too quickly to get complacent.
A week ago, I finally had to face the facts that the new flowers were also dropping and we weren’t getting anymore zucchini. Something was wrong. I noticed one of the baby zucchinis was turning yellow on one end and some of the big leaves were definitely yellow, so my next hypothesis was some type of blossom end rot. I decided to un-net the plants and clear away all yellowing leaves and any weeds or other debris and maybe spray with calcium chloride because we’d had a whole lot of rain. But I decided this at dusk one day while out inspecting the garden.
I should also add that I’ve been feeling pretty consistently crummy all month and the thought of doing any work at all in the garden was a little daunting. Still, I knew I’d be feeling better in a few weeks and then I’d be kicking myself for not taking care of the crop when I had the chance.
Next morning, I came out to work on the plants. I pulled the netting off, pulled off the first dying leaf, and got my first clue that we had a really big problem. Right at the base of the leaf, the normally tough stem had been turned to mush…and in the middle of the mush was an ugly worm, sort of like a cross between a caterpillar and a giant maggot with a black head. Ew. I squashed it. But I was under no illusion that was the only one. Something was niggling at the back of my mind, something that had a phrase “zucchini cutworm” involved. I’d never seen a cutworm before. I had a feeling I’d just squashed my first acquaintance.
Then, of course, it was war.
I got a small stick and poked around the base of the plants. Nearly the entire stem of one had been chewed through and was yellow mush – and that plant was beginning to wilt as the sun was getting warmer. I hadn’t noticed wilting before. I found several entrance tunnels and ran my little stick up them. Worms started evacuating the plant. I got out the insecticide dust, coated the stem, coated the dirt, and began squashing worms. I think I killed about ten of them, big fat ugly things, and every time I thought I’d gotten them all I found another one. They had almost completely destroyed the trunks of both plants, but one was a whole lot worse than the other. I pretty much figured we’d lost one, but there was a chance to save the other. I poked more insecticide dust up into the newly-cleared channels, carted all the debris out to the garbage can (no paper bags for this stuff – I was taking no more chances!), scrupulously cleared everything from the base of the plants, and settled down for sentry duty. For three more days, I policed those plants, removing any dying leaves (debris is attractive to bugs), checking every day for worms I might’ve missed (found three more), and watching anxiously for the plant that wasn’t wilting to show signs of it.
The plants actually began to revive. Anyone ever tells you zucchini isn’t a tough vegetable, just laugh. I don’t know how these things are still talking to their roots, given the interruption in communication, but they’re still growing. And blooming.
And the blooms…aren’t dropping.
There’s a moral to this story. Pay attention to the little things that don’t seem quite right and don’t be content with having solved the problem until you’ve really solved it: until you’ve seen the problem stop. Don’t put off checking on a problem because you’ve decided you’ve fixed it. Be truthful rather than complacent. Because little worms end up chewing away at a lot of other things in life besides your vegetables.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
Please don't be shy! If you're reading the blog updates, we'd like to hear what you think. Click on the "comments" link to send us a note.