Growing courgettes is easy so long as you have the space, and they are definitely a member of the ‘Most Awaited Crops’ group in the UK, giving a harvest from June right through to the first frost. And, if you have a polytunnel, the harvest can begin as much as a month earlier than outside and keep going well into November.
Growing courgettes is easy, so long as they are protected while small. Tempting though it is, try to wait until at least mid-April before sowing, or the plant may be ready to be set out before the weather has warmed. Seeds should be planted, edge down, in a light, well drained compost – preferably in a biodegradeable pot – in a warm, light place and not allowed to dry out. All the squashes have very delicate roots which are easily damaged in transplanting, and a biodegradeable pot means the whole thing gets put in the ground. Ideally, the plants shouldn’t even know they’ve been moved!
Courgettes are picky, and if their growth is held back by anything (too cold, too dry, slug attack, Barry Manilow playing in the background) the result will probably be a stunted plant and an indifferent harvest.
There are two basic types: bush, and trailing. In a confined space, bush varieties are a must, or nearby plants will be engulfed! While recommended space between plants is 60cms, if given plenty of nutrients they can get much bigger and require twice that distance. Courgettes like rich earth and will quickly respond to feeding.
Courgettes need space, and plenty of water and nutrients. If you have two plants, try to train their main stems away from each other to avoid overcrowding. Sometimes a particularly happy plant will divide the its stem and develop side branches, each of which then develops fruit. This can result in an enormous and very productive plant and may lead to a decision: do you really want more courgettes, or would you prefer the diversity that the surround crops will potentially bring? Andy’s approach to growing courgettes is ‘plant two, and hope one dies’. This year I’ve planted three, and so far all are doing well… and yes, we have plenty of courgettes, thank you very much!
Plants in outside beds they will begin to look progressively more depressed as the weather cools towards the end of the year, and the first frost will probably turn the whole thing into a vegetable version of a broken, but open, umbrella. Very sad – but there’s always next year! Under cover they’ll keep going for a few weeks longer – but they won’t continue to fruit through the winter, even if you can keep the temperature above freezing.
Courgettes can be picked at any size, but beware turning your back on one that’s almost ready to pick…because in just a couple of days it can turn into a zeppelin. When this happens the plant just…stops, thinking that it’s now time to channel its energy into seed production. Pick the culprit immediately.
When a courgette is big enough to be picked, twist it gently to break it off the stem. Don’t leave flowers on the ends of developing fruit as they can quickly develop mould which will spread rapidly under the right conditions.
Courgettes can be frozen after cooking whether on their own or in a dish. They can also be dried if sliced thinly and blanched for a couple of minutes, and make great pickles. They are also used in chutneys and even jams. Fresh courgettes store better on a shaded, cool and dry surface than in the fridge, where they will become soft in a few days.
Slugs are the main predator and will munch the growing tip right off the plant in no time at all. A low bottle cloche will help young plants survive until they are big enough to look after themselves. Courgette plants soon develop zillions of tiny spines everywhere and this probably helps to keep slugs away.
Powdery mildew may spread on the leaves, particularly in the drier conditions under cover. If it gets bad, spray the plant with bicarbonate or one part milk to ten parts water to slow it down.