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Growing Courgettes

Two Wests & Elliott's Gardening Guide To Growing Courgettes

The great thing about courgettes is that they will reward you with bumper crops with the minimum effort. Easy to germinate and grow you’ll be able to harvest up to 30 fruits per plant – cropping at least twice a week in peak season.  
Selecting The Seeds
There are a wide variety of courgettes to choose from – they can be yellow or green, long and straight like a cucumber or round like a melon or even bottle shaped. Here are a few which you could try:

Black Beauty – with a really dark green skin when fully grown.
Golden Dawn III – as the name suggests, a very bright yellow skin distinguishes this variety.
Lebanese –a bit more unusual, this courgette has a very pale green skin and is shaped more like a ‘club’ than a typical courgette.
De Nice a Fruit –a round courgette which is ready to eat when it’s about the size of a tennis ball.

When & Where To Sow
You can choose to start off your plants under cover – this will give plants the best start and enables you to start sowing seed from mid April onwards. Otherwise, you can start planting seeds directly into the ground from around mid may – once any chance of frost has passed.  

Under Cover
Sow a single seed, on its side, approximately 1” deep in potting compost in a
3” diameter pot. As long as you keep the pot somewhere warm – ideally at around 20*C – then it will only be a few days after sowing that a seedling will appear. From this point onwards you can reduce the temperature to around 15*C and after about four weeks the plant should be strong enough to be hardened off before planting out.

Hardening off takes a couple of weeks – this can either involve transferring plants from a heated greenhouse into a
cold frame or if you haven’t got a cold frame, take the plants out of the greenhouse during the day and replace back in the evening. Over the two weeks gradually increase the amount of time plants are left outdoors and this will help them to become used to the cooler temperatures before you to transfer them into the ground.  

Directly Outdoors
Once the threat of frost has passed – usually from mid May onwards – it is possible to sow courgette seeds directly into the ground where they will remain until their fruit has been harvested. Choose a sheltered position in your garden, where it’s likely to get loads of sunshine throughout the summer months.

To prepare the area before planting improve the condition of the soil be digging in compost of well rotted manure to create an area which is full of nutrients and free draining. About four weeks before you intend to sow cover the area with
garden fleece or cloches to raise the temperature of the soil.

When planting courgette seeds directly into the ground, plant two seeds, on their edges, about 1” deep and space them about 3’ apart. Once the two seedlings have emerged and become large enough to handle, remove the weaker one leaving the stronger seedling in place to grow.    

Expert Tip
Planting larger seeds – like those of the courgette – on their side reduces the chance of the seeds rotting before they have a chance to germinate. 

Looking After Courgettes
There are basically only two rules when looking after your courgette plants to ensure healthy yields:

Keep Plants Well Watered – this is especially important once fruits start to appear, when you should be watering and providing a liquid feed to encourage healthy formation of fruit. When the weather is hot and dry each courgette plant may need up to 10 litres of water each week to remain healthy.

To help plants remain moist apply a mulch of compost or bark around the plants – you’ll need to do this when the plants are still small and you can get to the ground surrounding them before their leaves prevent this. To make watering easier, insert a small plant pot into the ground neat the plants and water into the pot which will direct water into the area of the ground where the roots will be.

Harvest Regularly – harvest at least twice a week in peak season and this will encourage more fruits to form. Beat practice is to use a sharp knife to cut the stem connecting the courgette to the plant – rather than breaking the courgettes off.  

Protecting Your Crops
There are very few problems which can occur when growing courgettes. Here are the ones you may see:

Slug and Snail Damage – this tends to occur when plants are small and more vulnerable to attack. An organic solution would be to sprinkle soot, sand or ash around your plants – slugs aren’t able to create the slime they need to move around when they come in contact with these gritty materials. Other solutions would include introducing nematodes into the soil or using copper rings or tape which deter slugs.

Aphid Viruses – aphids can spread a fatal virus which causes the leaves to turn yellow and pucker and can also affect the fruit. It is possible to buy varieties which should be resistant – such as Defender or Supremo. If you find aphids on your plants remove them by hand or by lasting the plants with water. To help keep aphids at bay plant Marigolds close to your courgettes – these attract hoverflies and hoverflies will feed on any aphids.

Powdery Mildew – this can occur in late summer. Keeping lots of space between your plants and regular watering should help. As you are coming towards the end of the growing season it may be simpler to remove the plants which become affected. 

You should be able to start harvesting courgettes between 12-14 weeks after sowing – although some varieties are ready to crop after just eight weeks. Start to harvest once the courgettes are between 4-8” long, or 2½” in diameter for round varieties. The smaller the size the stronger the flavour. Ideally harvest and eat on the same day – although if necessary you can keep courgettes up to five days in the fridge.

You can expect to harvest from between 15 up to 30 courgettes per plant – regular harvesting will encourage more courgettes to grow, you can often be picking fresh courgettes at least twice a week.

Why Grow Courgettes?
Courgettes are extremely versatile – they can be baked, grilled, roasted, steamed, stewed, fried or even eaten raw. Courgettes have about 95% water content and are low in calories – only about 18 calories per 100g – but are high in minerals, vitamins (A & C), together with folic acid and potassium. To retain the vitamins and minerals when you cook the courgettes you should leave the skin in place.

Not only can you eat the courgette, you can also eat the flowers. Ideally pick flowers early in the day before they have opened and choose the smaller sized flowers that look firm and fresh. You are best to eat the flowers on the same day as you pick them – they can be baked, fried in batter, sautéed, used in soup or larger flowers can be stuffed.

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