Tag Archives: zucchini flower

It is salad time

June is always a salad month, not a stew or a sauce month, definitely just a salad month. All plants are surely growing, but most are too immature to feed a hungry family.  This early in the season all I am able to harvest consistently is salad greens and radishes. IMG_3760

No, I am not complaining, we enjoy being able to go out and pick a nice mix of of lettuces to eat that same eve. We always make sure to include assorted color, shape and textured leaves for best flavor and visual impact. IMG_3761 IMG_3762 IMG_3922 IMG_3915

Since we started harvesting our greens about 10 days ago the combined harvest of lettuces and the like (spinach, young chard, etc) has been plentiful, but not excessive. We are harvesting on a cut and come again basis, and so far we have visited  75% of the plants, some of which have been cut more than once already. IMG_3923 IMG_3924

I certainly cannot take full credit for our production, the cooler and wet weather we have been experiencing has kept the lettuce growing and not induced it to bolt.

Last week I reported on our first radish harvest. Our first three square feet of radishes produced over 1.6 lbs. That is a lot more radish than we bought in all of last year, however having it available and fresh, has made it easy for us to include them in our diet. It is so easy to grow, that I have already replaced the harvested squares with new plantings. Today I started picking a different square with long radishes, Salad Rose variety from Burpee Seeds. IMG_3855 IMG_3877 IMG_3881

Beautiful red skin with a pink to whitish center, very crisp texture and live peppery flavor.IMG_3928 IMG_3929 IMG_3930

As for the rest of the garden, it seems all other plants are getting in the mood to grow and produce something. The peas are going mad trying to grab and climb up the trellis, their white flowers and pods popping out everywhere.IMG_3880 IMG_3767 IMG_3868

The tomatoes, have been flowering for a week now, and you can see fruit starting to form in some of the plants. I think this is the earliest I have had tomatoes form on the vines ever. At this rate, we may have cherry tomatoes by 4th of July. So far the plants are looking very healthy, the indeterminate variety clearly growing faster than the determinate ones.IMG_3841

The zucchinis in the grow bags are doing wonderfully, their leaves have not become gigantic as I am used to seeing them. Instead it seem as if the plants are putting more of their energy producing flowers. IMG_3878The first two male flowers came out yesterday, and today the first female flower was fully open. IMG_3839 IMG_3837 IMG_3898

Lucky enough there were also couple male flowers to get pollen from, so for sure we’ll be having zucchini this week. Check out one of my early posts on fertilizing zucchinis  A bees job. Remember also that zucchini flowers are edible, for a great way to use the flowers visit Nonna’s zucchini flower recipe.

The water melon, cantaloupe and spaghetti squash growing in bags are doing great. I am considering dedicating the small area of my yard with Southern exposure to growing plants in bags next year. IMG_3905 IMG_3823

Not everything is picture perfect though… The corn I planted a couple of weeks ago has failed to impress me. I was concerned since the beginning that the area would not get enough sun, and indeed it doesn’t. I have just a couple corn plants struggling to survive, if it wasn’t because I don’t have anything else I want to grow there I would have pulled their plug already.  My biggest concern currently is with the potatoes. Some of the plants in one of three bags started to wilt and died after the last dirt fill. Perhaps I did not leave enough leaves out of the ground, but it has been so cool and wet around here lately that I started to fear fungal infestation. I have been checking carefully for signs of fungi, but cannot see anything so far that would suggest that is the cause, in any case I just hope for warm sunny days ahead.

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Keeping them fresH2O

I have spent part of this summer trying to figure out how to preserve the two most perishable vegetables I grow. Lettuce, and zucchini (courgette) flowers.

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It is fairly easy to keep fresh one, or perhaps a couple heads of lettuce in the crisper section of the refrigerator. However, when you end up harvesting more than you can fit in the whole fridge, you know you need to try something different. The solution came to me simply, but out of necessity.

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Right after collecting a batch of lettuce leaves, I thoroughly rinse them in the sink in cold water to get rid of sand any other stuff still on them. I put them stem end down in a bowl keeping the larger leaves on the outside. I then fill the bowl up with cold water to keep the lettuce fresh. In this manner, the lettuce keeps very crispy, without drying up or browning for at least a day and a half right on the kitchen counter, without the need for refrigeration.

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Whatever lettuce we want to give away, we tie lightly in a bundle with a cord and put it in a plastic bag. I have been able to keep and transport lettuce like this for a few hours. When I have different types of lettuce available I make bundles with assorted leaves for an instant salad mix.

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Now, if figuring out how to keep lettuce came easy, zucchini flowers, on the other hand,  were a real challenge. The flowers comes up very early in the morning and if left on the plant they will close up and start wilting by early morning. As much as they are delicious for breakfast, we had seen some great recipes that we wanted to try for dinner. We had also offered flowers to friends who would not come over early enough to get them fresh off the plants.

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I tried everything: keeping the flowers on the counter; keeping them in the fridge; putting the flowers  in a vase; keeping the vase in the fridge, etc. The results were at least consistent, in the afternoon the flowers always looked somewhat sad, petals starting to curl, a little bit soft and dull yellow.

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My final try was last week. I cut the stems at the base, removing everything and leaving only the petals as a hollow tube. I rinsed the flowers and refrigerated them immersed in a bowl of water. It was not until the next evening that my wife took them out of the fridge and declared “this is it”. After more than 30 hours, the flowers were still firm, bright yellow and open all the way. We decided to eat them following Nonna’s recipe, they were delicious.

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Unfortunately, I got these promising results with the last flowers I collected before discarding and mulching the spent zucchini plants. My next batch of zucchini plants is still germinating, and will not be available for me to try again for a few weeks. If you are still getting flowers, and happen to try this, please leave me a note below, I would like to know what kind of results you get.

try some awesome zucchini/courgette flower recipes

Nonna’s zucchini flower recipe

ImageLast year I had just posted some photos of my garden in Facebook when I got a comment from my friend Zuly in Italy. Her post under a shot of zucchinis said something like “do you also eat the flowers?, they are delicious”. The idea sounded intriguing and fun, as we had never tried them.

However the comment came at a time when our tomatoes were in full production, so our attention was mostly focused to thinking about how many different ways were there to eat tomatoes, and who else could we offer them to take them off our hands…soon after there were no more flowers to pick. As we planted our garden this year I kept in mind to try the flowers for sure this season.

Our first try was cut up flowers in a salad, the bright yellow pieces looked awesome, but honestly could not distinguish their taste with the dressing. For the second trial I decided to have them stuffed, but since I am not much of a recipe follower I decided to ad lib it, using whatever I had on hand… I made the stuffing with cottage cheese, garden oregano pesto and Parmesan cheese. Each flower took about 2 tsp to fill, and from there they went straight to a hot pan lightly greased with olive oil. My wife and I had them for breakfast, they tasted delicious, but needed major improvement with the somewhat soggy texture .

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My original filling
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I kept the whole flower and filled them though the top.
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I grilled the flowers, turning them once, the black burned stuff is cheese.

Yesterday we had a special treat, my son K and his beautiful girlfriend came over to spend the weekend with us. She is Italian (real Italian), when I told her I had collected zucchini flowers earlier in the morning she immediately said she loved them, and offered to prepare them the way her “nonna” made them. Ha, she fell right on my trap!! If I had a mustache I would have turned its tips….finally a chance to see how it is really done.

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Male flower in plant
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Yesterday’s flower harvest

Her preparation was elegantly simple but the result was awesome. She washed the flowers and cut the stems at the base. She then opened the flowers lengthwise, removed the stamen (where the pollen is in the center of the flower), and filled them with ricotta which she had previously salted and peppered. She wrapped the flower around the ricotta mix, passed them through an egg wash and finally covered them with flour before flash frying them in a shallow pan with olive oil. The flavor was subtle but delicious, and the texture was great as it was slightly crispy on the outside.

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Preparing the flowers
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It is much easier to fill them through the side
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close the flower by folding the sides over each other
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Pass over egg wash
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Roll over flour
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Frying in olive oil
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Crispy and delicious

To prepare the above dishes I harvest the male flowers early in the morning, right after collecting the pollen and distributing it among the female, or fruit bearing ones. The flowers look and are very delicate, so I bring them inside, put them in water and refrigerate them until I am ready to use them.

A bee’s job

A couple of years ago I thought I was probably the only person that could not grow zucchinis. In disappointment I would see how what I thought were baby zucchinis would start forming at the base of the plant, only to wither and rot in a couple of days. After researching the problem I came to the conclusion that we probably had not enough bees in our property to fertilize the flowers.

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Female flowers grow towards the bottom of the plant. See small zucchini looking thing is actually the ovary, it will wilt if the flower is not fertilized
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This is the female flower. See the female organ in the center
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Male flowers grow on tall stems towards the top of the plant

Zucchinis produce two kinds of flowers, the female flower usually grows close to the base of the plant and is attached to the ovary (a zucchini looking organ). The male flower, on the other hand usually grows on a tall stem closer to the top of the plant, and away from the fruit bearing flower.  Since the sexual organs of the plant are held in separate flowers, the pollen must reach the female organ and fertilize the flower for the zucchini to actually form, mature and grow. If the garden does not have sufficient bees or other pollinating insects to move the pollen from one flower to the other one must do the work.

The zucchini flowers open up early in the morning, by 5:30-6:00 they are in full bloom. I go out in the garden early before the flowers wilt, and with a q-tip I swab the stamens to collect pollen that I then transfer to the female organ by gently touching them with it. By doing this I have been able to obtain a steady production of zucchinis throughout the summer.

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Collecting the pollen
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Pollinating the female flower
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Zucchinis growing, also see new immature flower forming
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This one turned into zucchini bread