You can’t hide ... zucchini are everywhere this time of year
Scene: A quiet vegetable garden in the fading daylight. Rows of corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and other harvest delights stretch in orderly abundance to a bug-be-gone border of brilliant marigolds.
A screen door quietly opens and closes, and a lone figure moseys across the yard clad in cut-offs and flip-flops. Taking huge, nourishing breaths of the earthy dusk air, our unwitting victim approaches the garden, maybe to pull a few weeds and think some deep thoughts.
Little does the victim know the terror hiding there! It waits, lurking under a thick camouflage of leaves, hidden, a stranger to all wholesome gardening intentions. Our hapless victim plucks at weeds and is filled with intense satisfaction and oneness with the universe.
But wait! What’s this? From the corner of a lazily roving eye comes a glimpse of ... something. Hesitantly pushing aside stalks and leaves, slowing in worried apprehension. A final nudge reveals ...
AAAAIIIIEEEEEEE!!! Run for your life!
But there’s nowhere to hide. A light knock-knock-knock on the front door reveals a smiling, slightly apologetic neighbor bearing a bushel basket full of ... GIANT ZUCCHINI!
There’s no escape!
How does summer come to this, to hiding from the enormous green monsters that mysteriously appear in our gardens seemingly overnight or that are abandoned on our front porches? And what happened to the cute, sweet little thing — no bigger than a kielbasa — nestled cozily amid verdant leaves on a bed of rich soil?
“The thing about it is zucchini really size up fast,” explained Dennis Hill, nursery manager of Bookcliff Gardens in Grand Junction. “It’s kind of like you go out in the garden and you go, ‘Oh, my God, what prehistoric thing has happened? I was just here this morning!’ ”
“All you have to do is turn your back for an hour and they’ll grow,” agreed Dan Kirby, program coordinator of the culinary school at Western Colorado Community College.
It’s a problem with roots, unfortunately, in good intentions. Come March, Hill said, winter-weary gardeners — masters or merely enthusiastic amateurs — are so dang sick of the cold weather and are in a positive frenzy to stick something green into the ground.
“Tomatoes!” they think. “Someday soon, I will have fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and spices! I will not eat any more waxy red baseballs from the supermarket.
And I will have corn! And radishes! Oh, it will be delicious! And, come harvest, I will can them! I will have zucchinis and ...”
Uh-oh. There’s always a zucchini in there somewhere. The problem is, they’re too easy to grow. They probably would grow in cracks in the sidewalk, if given the chance. They reward even those with a brown thumb by growing and growing and growing.
“And they’re rewarded until they end up with a giant zucchini,” said Curtis Swift, horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension Service. “A solution to that is only plant one (zucchini) instead of 10 to 15.”
But even with just one zucchini plant in the ground, things can get out of hand. A vigilant gardener, Hill said, will do daily walk-throughs of the garden, which actually is one of the rewards of gardening.
“I’ve found it to be a great, relaxing part of my day,” Hill said. “I like walking through early in the morning as the sun comes up with a cup of coffee, and the day is glittery fresh. Maybe other folks get home from work, change clothes, mix a gin and tonic and enjoy the sunset as they do their walk-through. Enjoy it! It’s not necessarily a chore, but you are doing practical things.”
Like scouting for pests and weeds and, of course, wayward zucchini, those once-wispy things that threaten to become whopping.
In late August, though, gardening fatigue can set in, Hill said. What begins in an enthusiastic, springtime flurry often dribbles down to “it’s so hot and I’m so tired of pulling weeds and dealing with those bugs, and I just want to buy some tomatoes at the store.”
Where once zucchini were vigilantly harvested as they reached 8 inches, they are increasingly ignored and allowed to run amok. A once-gimlet eye cast over the garden becomes hazy, blind to what lurks under leaves and behind thick stalks.
And then, one day, aaah! Giant zucchini! (Fact: The current world-record zucchini weighed 65 pounds.)
What to do with these baseball bats of vegetable? One option is to foist them on neighbors and friends. Author Amy Steward wrote in “From the Ground Up” that August is “the month when everybody drives with their windows up for fear someone will sneak a zucchini in.”
September, then, becomes one enormous cringe, an omnipresent dread hanging over the month as people avoid eye contact, hoping nobody will offer them paper sacks filled with giant zucchini.
“Hey, I’ve got some zucchini out in the truck, do you…? Wow, I didn’t know you could run that fast.”
“Then, after the giant zucchini come people trying to give away zucchini bread,” Hill said, laughing. “So your freezer is filling up with it.” (And don’t forget the inevitable follow-up: “You can’t even tell there’s zucchini in it, can you?” Wow, ya got me! Zing! Except for those little squiggly green things crawling through the bread.)
It’s a testament to the essential goodness of people’s hearts that they don’t want to throw away that which they grew. “Waste not, want not” still holds powerful sway.
But could it not be boxes full of juicy sweet corn or crispy little cucumbers that get anonymously stashed on our backseats? Thanks for sharing and all, but must it always be giant zucchini?
Yes, unfortunately, it must be giant zucchini. They surprise us then hypnotize us, and the only thing to do is walk away quickly and don’t look back.