Water-wise zucchini

Water-wise zucchini

Would you like a zucchini? It’s a question often posed by gardeners due to zucchini’s abundant fruiting habit. This year, I hope a few more of you will give them a go, as I have an easy idea that will reduce the need to water your plants.

The secret is in the preparation and the ingredients. Zucchini are gross feeders and produce the best bounty when they have adequate water. By using tyres, you create a microclimate, offering an increased soil temperature early on in the season. The tyre garden’s construction encourages deeper roots and allows you to get food and water directly to the root zone. As the plant grows, leaves form a natural canopy for your compost that will cool the ground and further enhance its water-retaining capacity.

Make a tyre garden

Step one

Prepare the soil

The main ingredient for the tyre garden is lots of organic material. This not only feeds the plant, but retains moisture. I use a mixture of compost, rabbit bedding and aged poultry bedding, mixing it all together as I add each element. You could also use pea straw or barley, and sheep pellets. Fresh comfrey leaves can be shredded and added to the mix, too. The addition of autumn leaf mould (decomposed autumn leaves) really increases the water-holding capacity. Worms will thrive in this mixture, creating lots of burrows for the water and air to travel through.
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Good organic material waiting to be mixed up. Shredded comfrey leaves.

Step two

Prepare for irrigation

The irrigation is provided by attaching an upturned drink bottle to a length of garden hose. Cut a few slits in the hose so that when it is curved into the base of the tyre, the water can run through the slits and into the soil. Removing the base of the bottle creates a funnel into which you can pour water and liquid food.

Step three

Put it together

Scoop a circular channel in the compost, about as deep as the tyre, and lay your garden hose around the base of the channel. Cover the hose back up, leaving the bottle base exposed, then plant your zucchini in the middle of the tyre. Give the compost a good water. Adding a layer of mulch (in this case, grass clippings) will increase the water retention of your compost. It’s always good to keep an eye on the compost just under the mulch to ensure it is still moist. You can pull back the mulch to water the surface as required, just make sure you avoid watering the leaves. A scattering of slug pellets might be a useful addition at this stage to deter midnight feasters.
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Immerse your pipe into the bottom of the compost. Male flower to the right, with a slender stalk.

Step four

Watch it grow

The more you harvest and feed your plants, the more you will be rewarded with zucchinis. Always use a knife to harvest your zucchini, as pulling them off can damage the plants. Try to pick them around 10cm long. Marrows always appear when you are not looking, but don’t worry, a meal can be made from them as well! Remember that your plants also love a liquid feed, so try adding comfrey or seaweed teas down the funnel, too.

Crop

Zucchini flowers are beautiful and their shape makes bee pollination a breeze. The flowers can be picked and stuffed with a variety of mixtures, such as ricotta and mint, before being fried. Don’t worry about the lost crop from those flowers as you will get plenty more. Male flowers have a longer, slender stalk, so use those up first.

Last year’s yellow zucchini cropped prolifically and, when freshly picked and finely sliced, made for a tasty garden snack whilst working in the garden.

Surplus zucchini can be chopped up, immersed in boiling water for 20 seconds, cooled in cold water, then bagged and frozen. They make a useful addition to winter soups and stews.

Care

As the season progresses, remove a few of the older leaves to ensure adequate airflow. To reduce powdery mildew, mix one part milk to nine parts water and spray on, reapplying after rain.