Zucchini, also known as Courgette is a type of summer squash and member of the Cucurbita genus, along with other plants important to humans such as pumpkins, some gourds and other squashes.
Besides being great in various recipes, Zucchini has no fat, contains a lot of water and fibre. It provides minerals including potassium and manganese, as well as significant amounts of vitamin B6, riboflavin, folate, Vitamin C and K, according to BBC Goodfood.
Zucchini are closely related to cucumber, but are consumed better when cooked.
Peter Kimani, who farms the crop in Kiambu county, says this annual herbaceous plant is easy to grow, reaches maturity quickly and is extremely prolific. He explains what needs to be done to cultivate the crop.
Zucchini requires a temperature of 15 to 22 degrees centigrade. During the vegetative growth period, an optimum water supply of 800 mm is ideal for the plants. Irrigation is recommended in case you want to grow in dry areas.
The common varieties grown in Kenya include Simba F1, Black beauty, Ambassador F1, Green Zucchini, and others.
Till the land to loosen the soil, add organic fertiliser and mix well to increase yield.
Create mounds of about 10 inches high, up to two feet in diameter. The spacing between mounds should be about four feet apart.
You can plant six seeds per mount, ensure even spacing and cover the seeds with loose soil,” says Kimani.
Prepare your land two or three months before planting.
Nursery preparation for zucchini
They can be grown in a seedbed and later transplanted. Direct sowing in the field also works. Seeds germinate within five to seven days.
“Plant the seeds in loose soil, ensuring that it is well-drained,” says Kimani.
Transplant the courgettes at three to four-leaf stage. For quality produce, mix the soil with DAP or manure.
It helps to do a soil test first. It costs Sh1,500 to do it. Do mulching to retain moisture in the soil and keep the fruits clean.
“Always remember that Zucchini are intolerant to humidity, it is better to plant in full sun,” says Kimani.
To successfully grow zucchini, the soil should be kept moist from planting to flowering and fruit stages.
“Ensure a source of water for irrigation if you plan to plant in dry areas. Water your crops daily if you want to have a good harvest.”
Pest and disease control
Pests to look out for include Cutworms, Fruit flies, Aphids, Red spider mites, Epilachna beetles, Leaf miners, Thrips and Whiteflies.
Diseases include Damping off, Anthracnose, Downy mildew, Powdery mildew and Mosaic.
“To control, spray with the recommended pesticides,” says Kimani.
Kimani says about 45 to 55 days after planting, you will begin to see blooms, which are soon replaced with the fruit. When the early zucchinis are about six inches long, you can start harvesting.
The correct size to pick depends on variety, but as a rule, harvest courgettes when they are 10cm (four inches). Use a sharp knife to cut the fruit from the plant. If well managed, the expected yield is two to three tonnes per acre.
There is a wide market range for zucchini as it can be sold locally or exported.
Kimani sells his produce locally in the markets and hopes to get into the export market once he fulfils all the requirements.