Long live the aristocrat

Sickly zukeIt’s been days since I harvested a zucchini from the Aristocrat, and that troubled me. Isn’t this the lock-your-cars season? The time of year when people leave zucchinis for you even if you’re growing your own? And yet, after a bumper crop of early baby zukes, it appeared the plant was done for the season.

There were still signs of growth: plenty of male flowers, their blossoms opening and closing impotently each day. Stubby little female pre-zucchinis, with tiny, tightly wrapped green blossoms at the end, nestled in the crooks of the leaves, unwilling to get. Any. Bigger.

Last weekend, during my big staking extravaganza, I added some stakes around the zucchini plant, which seemed to be listing slightly to one side. I credited that to the fact that we’d cut leaves pretty substantially off one side early in the growing process, mostly attempting to save the eggplant at the edge of the garden, which I eventually sacrificed and replaced with rosemary.

On Saturday, when I went out to shoot my garden status shots, I noticed that the plant, which used to send its leaves straight up, had begun to droop over even further. In fact, even though I’d placed a stake on the same side as the plant seemed to be falling, the leaves had just gone right around the stake, right down to the ground, ignoring my training efforts, my string, and every other effort I’d made to remind it to stand up straight and keep its hair out of its eyes.

Yesterday at work, I stopped by the front desk to talk to Jackie, our office’s resident Master Gardener. “I think I need to pull the zucchini plant out of the garden, but I’m kind of scared to do it if it might actually start producing again,” I said. “We almost pulled our cucumber plant at one point, and now it’s popping out cucumbers all over the place.”

Jackie listened to my symptom descriptions and pronounced her verdict: “The only thing I can think of is squash borers,” she said. “They got one of my plants this year. Just get it out of there, because you won’t be able to save it.”

Dying zukeAfter I got home and changed, I headed out, determined to ignore the 98-degree evening and deal with the troubled plant. By tonight, it was completely yellow and fully wilted. Other than a few green spots, there was barely any question of whether or not it was going to make it.

That being said, I am that stubborn. I had to asked the question. I walked over and grabbed a handful of leaves, lifting them gently to see if they had any life left in them at all.

The entire plant came up in my hand.

Shocked, I looked down at the sawdust that remained at ground level. The entire stalk of the plant looked as if termites had held aZuke stalk frat party and left without cleaning up. I wasn’t really sure what the result of a squash borer infestation was supposed to look like, but something told me Jackie had been right. A Google Images search later in the evening confirmed that as the culprit. I found pictures of other diseased zucchini plants that looked just like mine.

Earlier in the season, this would have devastated me. But we did get to eat some of our own, homegrown (and delicious, I might add) zucchini, so I don’t feel completely cheated. Now, I’m seeing this as something of an opportunity. With the biggest plant in the garden gone, there’s all kinds of room for Fall frivolity.

The Aristocrat zucchini is dead. Long live the Aristocrat!

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10 Responses to “Long live the aristocrat”


  1. 1 steven August 1, 2006 at 7:37 am

    I’ve had a couple plants with borer activity as well, but I’ve managed to harvest about forty pounds of summer squash so I’m not very upset about it. Now if the little fecks go after my Hubbard,Butternut or Pumpkins, were going to have a problem.

  2. 2 Matt August 1, 2006 at 8:08 am

    I had the same exact problem with my zucchinni and summer squash. I was only able to harvest one fruit before they met their demise though, but I’ve been enjoying them from the market. Last night when I pulled them up they looked just like you describe. Man, it sucks.

  3. 3 Loretta August 1, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    I’m not growing squashes, but I actually had what I was 98% sure were ground termite workers demolishing a couple tomatoes plants and a couple of Aeoniums. It does suck big time…

  4. 4 spetunia August 1, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    Well, no more zuke neglect from me. I’ll treasure each one that I pick in honor of those who met an untimely end by the borer. Even zucchini have a weak spot subject to the wild ways of the garden.

  5. 5 inadvertentgardener August 1, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    Steven, I’m sending good wishes to your winter squash — I hope the borers stay away! If you have enough summer squash plants, maybe it will be OK.

    Matt, only one fruit? That’s tragic… It does suck. Well, you’ve got the Cedar Rapids downtown market on Saturday, if it’s any consolation? Maybe?

    Loretta, termites? They eat tomatoes? Who’d have thunk it… That’s awful.

    SPetunia, yes, treasure them. I keep eyeing my two other squash plants, wondering if I’ll get anything off them. Nothing yet, so maybe not. I’m having a hard time believing that was it for the season, but oh well. You’re right…even the powerful zucchini is not infallible.

  6. 6 Judith August 2, 2006 at 6:00 pm

    The horror! I never knew *anything* would bug a zucchini. They’ve been my most indestructible, reliable crop. Nice that you turn the sitch on its head and see it as an opportunity for some fall planting… you were tired of zukes by now anyway, right?

  7. 7 inadvertentgardener August 2, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    Judith, that’s what I figured — that’s why I thought we would have to definitely include one in our original planting. But, it is no more…

    I wouldn’t say I was even close to tired of zukes, but an opportunity for new excitement is never a bad thing. We’ll see how the next round goes!

  8. 8 Lazy Gardens August 22, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    Love the blog name!

    I lost a squash to them in Arizona (see http://www.writingup.com/lazygardens/the_squash_vampire for the gory details … the culprit bugs look more like a wasp than the moth they really are. Next year I’ll know what to watch out for.

  9. 9 inadvertentgardener August 22, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    Lazy Gardens, thanks for that link — I’m going to go check it out!


  1. 1 Answer to zucchinni problem « Fat Guy on a Little Bike Trackback on December 12, 2007 at 6:23 pm

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