Courgette plants are easy to grow and fruit abundantly – expect to pick three or four a week in good weather. These plants like to spread out, so give them about a square metre/yard each, or grow in large containers or growing bags if you’re short of space.
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Courgettes are easy to grow from seed. They are best started off indoors in pots, but you can also sow them outdoors in the spot where they are to grow.
For earlier crops or in cold regions, sow seeds indoors from mid- to late April at 18–21°C (65–70°F). Sow seeds individually on their side, 1.5cm (½in) deep, in 7.5cm (3in) pots of compost.
In late May or early June, prepare your sowing site by digging in lots of home-made compost or well-rotted manure, to about the depth and width of a spade’s blade. Then sow two or three seeds in the centre, 2.5cm (1in) deep. Cover with a cloche, jar or plastic, and leave the covering in place for two weeks, or as long as possible, after germination. If more than one seed germinates, remove the smaller, weaker seedlings to leave just the strongest one.
You can also buy young plants from garden centres in spring. Plant out in late May to early June, after all risk of frost has passed.
Indoor-raised plants must be hardened off (acclimatised to outdoor conditions) before planting outside in June. Do this by moving young plants into a coldframe for a week. If you don’t have a coldframe, move them outdoors during the day, then bring them in at night for a week. Then the following week, leave them out in a sheltered spot all day and night.
Courgettes need a sunny spot and rich soil, so prepare the planting site for indoor-raised plants as follows:
Make a hole about a spade’s depth and width
Fill the hole with a mixture of home-made compost or well-rotted manure and soil
Sprinkle a general purpose fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4 over the soil at a rate of two handfuls per square metre/yard.
Then plant one courgette in the centre. If you’re growing several, space them 90cm (3ft) apart.
You can also grow courgettes in growing bags or large containers (at least 45cm/18in wide). Plant one or two per bag or one per container.
Courgettes are thirsty plants and need regular and generous watering as they grow. When you water, try not to splash the leaves. A useful tip is to sink a 15cm (6in) pot into the ground alongside your plant. Then water into the pot, so the water goes right down to the roots and doesn’t sit around the neck of the plant, which can lead to rotting.
Feed every 10–14 days with a high potassium liquid fertiliser, such as tomato feed, once the first fruits start to swell.
Appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface and leaves become stunted and shrivel.
Keep the soil moist and grow in cooler locations.
No fruit, or fruit rotting when very small
This is a physiological problem, caused by the growing conditions, not a pest or disease. It is a problem when the weather in early summer is cool and this causes inadequate pollination.
This is usually a temporary problem and once the weather starts to improve, so will pollination. You can try to hand-pollinate plants yourself by removing a male flower (no swelling at their base) and brushing the central parts against the centre of a female flower (female flowers have a swelling at the base – this is the beginning of the fruit). But this is a bit of a hassle, and normally the plant will correct this problem itself.
A usually grey, fuzzy fungal growth which can begin as pale or discoloured patches. Grey mould ( botrytis) is a common disease especially in damp or humid conditions. Spores enter plants via damaged tissue, wounds or open flowers. Mould can also damage ripening fruit such as strawberries. Black resting spores survive over winter.
Remove damaged plant parts before they can become infected. Cut out infected areas into healthy tissue and clear up infected debris. In greenhouses, reduce humidity by ventilating and avoid overcrowding of young plants and seedlings.
Courgette plants usually fruit for many months, from early summer onwards, sometimes right through to the first frost.
Pick the courgettes when they’re young and tasty, 10–12.5cm (4–5in) long.
Regular harvesting, when the fruits are small, will encourage more to form.
The flowers can also be harvested, and have a mild courgette flavour. They can be eaten raw in salads or stuffed and fried. Use straight away, as they don’t keep for long.
Greg Wallace tempts us with his grilled vegetable terrine.
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