Beware of attack by runaway zucchini

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 21, 2000

One of the really great things about being from around these parts is the fact that most folks love to dabble in gardening. All you have to do is look in any back yard or flower bed and you'll see the fruits (and vegetables) of these efforts.

I love it, too. I grew up in a house full of women who thought (a) it was a sin to have a yard that was just different shades of green, (b) grass was something that you planted to connect flower beds so you wouldn't have to walk on dirt, and (c) the easiest way to fill your yard with beautiful, brightly-colored plants was to sit in a lawn chair and point to the place you wanted your (pick one) son, grandson, nephew, or on-loan-to-the-little-old-ladies boy to plant the aforementioned bulb, seed or shrub.

Mama, Mimi, Mother, Aunt Lyn, Miss Bernice Webb. . .they are the reasons that I love the smell of fresh turned earth and the feel of dirt under my nails. As a son of the South, I feel it my bounden duty to wrest from the earth whatever bounty it may yield, even if I could buy it a whole lot cheaper at Wingard's Curb Market in McKenzie.

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But I'll never again plant zucchini.

Growing up, we always had a garden. Never a great big, forty acres of peas and beans affair, but a nice, neat, well-tended patch of tomatoes and peppers and cuccumbers and squash and a few hills of corn. So the first thought that went through my mind when I got married (well, not exactly the first thought) was that I, as a breadwinner of the household, must harvest enough to carry us through the fallow days of winter. (Note here: that's why we have supermarkets.)

As spring dawned clear and warm, I set to work in the garden. I walked what seemed like miles

behind my tiller, throwing dirt and weed into the air, as the rows began to appear and the mellow scent of cow lot fertilizer and wild onions (did I really say mellow?) perfumed the neighborhood. Corn and peas and squash and carrots and radishes and melons and cantaloupes and turnips and mustard and cucumbers and…you get the picture. This garden looked like something you would put on a postcard. All was well until I got to the zucchini.

We, as in my family, had never planted zucchini. While buying out the seed store, much to the owner's delight, I came across one of those big cans of zucchini seeds. When I asked him "how do these do around here?", I should have suspected something when he threw the whole can in "for free".

As I said, I had never planted zucchini. Not knowing how well it yielded (kind of like ants on a candy bar), I went ahead and planted three fifty-yard-long rows. Might as well get enough.

Years later, when I finally garnered the courage to tell this story in public, I found out that three rows of zucchini was enough to match the annual export of some third-world countries.

We had plenty of zucchini. Our neighborhood had plenty of zucchini. Everybody I knew had plenty of zucchini. I took zucchini to church; to the store; to the golf course. I carried five-gallon buckets of zucchini in my truck. We learned to eat zucchini fried, boiled, steamed, broiled, as bread, in soup, in stews, raw, baked, al fresco, sauteed. It got to the point that people would close their doors when they saw me traipsing up their front walk with sacks in hand.

I was no longer welcome in friends' homes unless I could prove I came empty handed.

So I quit cutting the zucchini. It didn't mind; it just produced zucchini about the size of your leg that scared you to death when you stepped on one as you went hunting for a ripe tomato.

So beware the sound this time of year that comes from your garden: it may be the return of the runaway zucchini.