Why Grow Courgette?
The courgette, often also known as zucchini, is botanically a fruit, but in culinary context it is treated as a vegetable. They originated in Italy in the late 19th century.
Although courgettes can reach nearly 1 m (3ft) in length, they are best harvested when the fruit is no more than 8” long, when the flavour and texture is at its best. There are also varieties than grow small, round shaped fruits. The colour varies from dark green through pale green to bright yellow.
The large, deep yellow flowers are also edible and be served in many ways, including in soufflés and breads. The courgette has a delicate flavour and is best cooked quickly with olive oil or butter, and a little black pepper and sea salt. Larger fruits can be stuffed with meat or other Mediterranean style vegetables.
|Botanical Name :||Cucurbita pepo.|
|Sowing Time :||End of May to Early June.|
|Harvest Time :||July to October.|
|Hardiness :||Not Hardy.|
|Position :||Full sun protected from strong winds.|
|Soil Type :||Well drained, fertile and with plenty of humus.|
|Average Plant Height :||50cm / 20in.|
|Spacing :||Bush types: 60cm (24in) between plants and rows.
Trailing types: 120cm (48in) between plants and rows.
|Spread :||60 to 90cm (24 to 36in).|
Soil and Preparation
Courgettes are easy to grow, but do need a large area and well-draining soil that is rich in humus, so be sure to dig in plenty of organic matter when preparing the bed.
About a fortnight before plating out or sowing your courgettes you need to prepare a planting pocket for each plant you intend to grow. To make a planting pocket, start by digging a square hole in the bed about 30cm (12in) wide and 30cm (12in) deep, fill the hole with a mixture of well-rotted manure or compost and soil. Space your planting pockets at 60cm (24in) intervals for bush varieties and 120cm (48in) for trailing varieties.
Seeds and Sowing
Courgettes can be sown straight into prepared planting pockets from late May to early June or can be started off in pots during April ready for planting out in June.
When sowing directly into planting pockets, sow three seeds at the centre of each pocket and thin out to leave the strongest plant once they have developed their first true leaves. Germination can be sped up by covering with a cloche or large jar.
Earlier crops can be achieved by starting courgettes off in pots under glass, sow into 8cm (3in) pots filled with good compost. Keep at a minimum temperature of 18c (65f) and make sure the compost remains moist. The seedlings will need to be hardened off for a week or so before planting out into prepared planting pockets.
Caring for your Crop
Keep the crop well-watered in dry conditions, water copiously around the plants but avoid getting water over them. Mulching around the bed in early summer can help to retain moisture in the soil. Liquid feed the plants regularly once you start harvesting.
A cold start to the season can lead to a shortage of bees and other pollinating insects so it may be necessary to hand pollinate your courgettes. Courgettes have both male and female flowers, you can identify the female flowers by the presence of a small, immature fruit at its’ base. Remove the stamen (small stalk inside) of the male flower and brush it gently on the stigma (small stalk inside) of the female flower to pollinate it.
Slugs can also be a menace for courgettes; you will need to use slug pellets or other control methods.
Courgettes are ready to harvest as soon as the first fruit is large enough, somewhere between 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in). Regular harvesting will ensure a long cropping period. To harvest, cut the fruit at the base using a sharp knife, taking care not to damage the plant. Given the right conditions courgettes can product two to three fruits per week.
Courgettes will stay fresh, kept in a polythene bag, in the fridge for about a week.