We tend to harvest them smaller than many other countries and it seems that because it’s a baby vegetable, there’s a perception that the smaller, the better. This isn’t really true as in a blind tasting one won’t easily differentiate between small and big.
I see in the US most are presented at 15cm to 18cm in length, but there’s a huge weight difference between the two. The window of opportunity to harvest smaller is narrower, while the labour costs to harvest and pack are also much higher for small fruit. The yield will also be much lower.
By allowing fruit to become larger, we’re not changing the plant’s bearing habit. The number of fruit harvested per plant will be the same whether harvested as very small or larger. The average size will determine the tonnage or number of punnets filled. I believe supermarkets and growers should discuss and work on this aspect for mutual benefit.
Meanwhile, the main problem with baby marrows is disease. This vegetable is not a once-off crop like pumpkins, and for contracts and utilisation of packing facilities, farmers want to plant successive crops over the season. When the plants become older, they become more susceptible to powdery mildew, but there are good systemic products for control, so this disease is more a nuisance than a limitation.
There are resistant varieties, but they’re not the most productive ones and farmers perceive that it’s cheaper to spray than to lose production. Viruses are the greatest threat as there’s no cure and we have to avoid infection and spread. Farms isolated from other cucurbit growers are at a distinct advantage. Aphids in and around the land have to be controlled and farmers growing sweetcorn can additionally plant strips of corn between strips of marrows.
This can make an enormous difference. We also need to inspect lands regularly, collect plants showing symptoms and put them in plastic bags to “cook” for a few days in the sun. Resistant varieties are now emerging and one can consider using a susceptible variety in the early, safer season and change over for the danger period.
Contact Bill Kerr on (016) 366 0616 or e-mail [email protected].