The fabulous courgette, an over-producer and one of the easiest plants to grow for beginners. Every garden should have at least one!
Courgettes grow rapidly from seed and require little maintenance except watering and some slug defence, so they are a good way to introduce yourself or your children to gardening. They are also an attractive looking plant with bright green leaves and huge yellow flowers.
Each plant can produce as much as 30 fruits in total at the rate of about 5 per week, so you may end up with more courgettes than you know what to do with! But luckily this veg is incredibly versatile in the kitchen.
Courgettes are high in fibre, potassium and vitamin K. They slow down digestion and help regulate blood sugar when used as a delicious addition to all kinds of recipes. Grill them, fry them or roast them. Use them to make cakes, scones and muffins. Add them to salads, lasagnes, soups, bakes, kebabs and moussakas. There is always a use for a courgette. You can even leave them on the plant and they will turn into giant marrows that you can stuff with rice and boil in a yummy tomato sauce. If that’s not enough, you can eat the flowers!
Let’s take a look at some different types of courgette available to grow:
There are many different varieties out there including green, yellow, striped (tiger), and even ball-shaped ones. They all follow a similar growing schedule and will weather the British climate very well.
Defender produces massive yields of deep green waxy-skinned fruits. This variety also has great disease resistance and a lengthy growing season. Its leaves grow in such a way that it is very easy to see and pick the fruit. So on the whole, defender is an excellent choice for the beginner.
A bright yellow, striped variety. Sunstripe is a very attractive courgette to have in the garden with a great flavour to boot. Like Defender, the fruits are easy to find and harvest, although the yields are not as high.
The classic British garden courgette and a reliable cropper. It has dark green spineless fruits like the kinds found in supermarkets. Venus plants stay quite small, so it is a great choice for growing in pots.
Black forest produces smooth, cylindrical fruits. It is a climbing courgette that grows up like a tree instead of spreading outwards, so it is another great choice for patio pots.
A fat, striped variety that is highly suitable for growing into big marrows. Tiger Cross is also an early cropper with good disease resistance.
A round variety with stripes, Eclipse fruits look like grenades and will make everyone who sees them say ‘wow’. The plants are large and bushy with good yields and the fruits are great for stuffing.
Bizarre-shaped fruits that are yellow with a green tip. They have an excellent flavour but must be harvested young to be properly enjoyed.
Unlike their cousins the cucumbers, all courgettes are hardy enough to be grown outside in the British summertime. However, you should start them off in pots and propagators.
The best time to sow courgette seeds is March. Use 12.5cm (5”) pots to set them away. Just fill with compost and push a seed down about an inch into each pot. Firm the soil down and water. Place your pots into a propagator or sit them on a windowsill.
Planting (In the Ground)
By the end of May your courgettes should be transplanted outside. If you missed planting seedlings in March you can actually plant courgette seeds directly into the ground at the beginning of June, they just won’t be ready as fast.
Choose a spot that gets plenty of sunlight and drains well. Dig in some good quality compost. Plant your courgettes about 1m (3ft) apart so that their leaves will have plenty of space to spread out. Press the soil down firmly around them and water in.
If you wish to use containers or growbags then you may do so. Put one plant in each container or two in each growbag.
Beware of slugs in the weeks immediately following planting courgettes out. Bigger plants can survive a slug assault but if a horde manages to reach younger plants they will literally razor them to the ground! Build beer traps or surround them with copper rings to zap the invaders until the plants get larger.
It is important to keep your courgettes well-watered all summer to make them grow healthy and fruit properly. The more water you feed them the more they will fruit. You should also ensure the ground around them remains moist, so soak them at least every other day. You can mulch with grass clippings too in order to lock the moisture in.
Like cucumbers and other gourds, courgettes also enjoy potash or bonfire ash, so feed them once per week if you can.
Keep weeds down at all times so that they do not block sunlight and steal the valuable water from your plants.
You should be able to start harvesting your courgettes around 12 weeks after first planting. You will notice the bases of the female flowers begin to swell and turn into courgettes.
It is entirely up to you exactly when to pick them. Some people like delicate baby courgettes, others like to wait until they are around 10cm (4”) in length, and others still like to grow them into huge fat marrows. You will soon learn when to pick them according to your own tastes and usage. If you get too many then you can slice, cook and freeze them.
Simply slice off the fruits with a sharp knife. Be careful not to pull at the plant or you may unsettle it. Remember that the more you pick, the more the plant will produce. So harvest at least 3 times per week to keep plants very productive.
If you want to harvest the flowers for frying or stuffing then take the male flowers and leave the female ones alone. You can tell the male ones because they don’t have a mini-courgette hiding behind them.
Now you know how to grow this most rewarding of garden crops, what are you waiting for, go and plant some!