Courgettes are a firm fleshy vegetable, which has grown in popularity over the years. It is in the gaud section of the cucumber family, which includes marrows, squashes and pumpkins. Courgettes are an easy crop to grow; children are fascinated with their flowers and excited by the crops rapid growth. Plants like these kindle interest in gardening at an early age which gives hope for the future, for once the passion for growing plants and good quality home grown foods has been kindled, it generally continues throughout a person’s life.
Courgettes are best eaten soon after harvesting them when they are fresh and at the peak of their flavor. In cooking, courgettes can be boiled, steamed, baked, fried, grilled and roasted. They have a delicate flavor so can be cooked with herbs to add variety.
Courgettes prefer heavier soils; they do best in positions where there is shelter from cold winds and they must have a sunny site. When preparing the ground, add plenty of manure and compost where the plants are to grow. Begin by digging a trench 4 in. (101mm) deep put in the manure then dig another putting the soil from this into the first trench. This will form a ridge; the courgettes can be planted into the ridges, 3 ft. (90cm) apart.
Sowing under cover
Sow the seed mid March through to late May putting two seeds into the pot ½ in. (12mm) deep, at a temperature of 65 to 70 deg F. (18 to 21 deg C.) the weaker one can be removed if they both germinate. Harden off the young plants by putting the first sowing into cold frames at the end of May. Plant them out after about two or three weeks along the ridges when the chance of frost has passed.
Sowing direct into the ground where they are to grow sowing two seeds per station, this can be done in mid May until early June at about 3 ft. (90cm) apart. When the seeds have germinated they can be thinned out removing the less vigorous seedling.
Water the pots well before planting out. Avoid holding the plants by their stems as they are easily bruised causing them irreparable damage. If the weather is cool cover each plant with a cloche for the first week to give them a little warmth and protection. One of the best methods we find is to use a half of a clear plastic 5 litre mineral bottle. Cut into half, the bottle makes two excellent cloches. The top half, whilst giving protection also allows air and moisture through the neck of the bottle onto the plants. To prevent flying insects entering through the neck, we secure a small piece of fleece with an elastic band.
Courgettes require plenty of water so that they are able to grow and fully develop, soak the roots thoroughly and regularly. For extra protection against the surface roots from drying out, grass clippings can be used as mulch. They are generally trouble free if the summer is a good one, however slugs can sometimes be a problem; to be on the safe side, position a few slug traps around the base of the plants. Cold conditions could restrict the activity of pollinating insects and so the fruits may fail to set. Should this happen it may be necessary to assist with pollination by removing a male flower and gently brush it against the female flowers, which can be distinguished from those of the male, by the slight swelling behind the flower.
In a good summer, courgettes can often be cut in August; keep cutting them when they are about 4 to 6 in. (101mm-15cm) long, do not be tempted to leave them longer because the flavor will not be quite as good. The plants will continue cropping until well into September. Use a sharp knife to cut the fruits from the plants, twisting or pulling will often damage the stem and possibly the whole plant.
Varieties to try:
‘Ambassador’: Good flavor with a high yield.
‘Defender’: Has good resistance to cucumber mosaic virus, heavy cropper.
‘Gold Rush’: Yellow skinned variety.
‘Tondo di Nizza’: Spherical fruits.