How to Grow Courgettes

How to Grow Courgettes

Courgettes are one of the most rewarding and easy things to grow in your own garden because they’re so productive, sometimes too much so, but we’ll talk about that in a little while, and if I’m going to sow courgettes I always think rather than sow lots of just one variety I tend to sow just one or two plants of a good range because then I get lovely colours, and they just look prettier on the plate, and my favourite of the golden ones is called ‘Soleil’, which is this one, and I’ll also talk about size in a minute as well. And then this is my tip top number one favourite which I absolutely love which is called ‘Romanesco’, and I don’t know if you can see but it’s got these distinctive ribs down the side of the, the length of the fruit and it’s got a very nutty flavour and very unwatery, very sort of dense texture, and then these two are the same, one is a baby and one’s a fully grown, and this is called ‘Bianca de Trieste’, and these are actually grown for stuffing, and in Greece and Italy quite often you get a stuffed courgette, and you can see it’s sort of slightly bulbous, but I love them at that size too, and then finally if you only have a small amount of space or even just a container, this one which is called ‘All Green Bush’ is a very good variety because it’s quite a compact grower, whereas all these form, these first three form quite big plants, so I’m going to now show you how to sow and plant them.

In terms of sowing courgettes, it’s unbelievably easy, they always germinate and they’re a big seed, flat and you put them vertically into their own mini pot, I’ve used a non-peat based compost, and these were sown twelve days ago, literally, so they’re really really quick, and when you’re planting a courgette, you, they’re quite hungry and thirsty, so I tend to dig a decent sized hole for them, and fill it with manure, and I’ve already put manure into this bed which I know courgettes are going into, so this is just supplementary feed, and of course manure’s brilliant because not only does it feed the plant but it also retains moisture, so that’s the double bonus of good old farmyard manure, which we’re lucky enough to have plenty of here, and then so you put that into the bottom of the hole, cover the hole a little bit so the baby roots aren’t in contact with neat manure, and then in it goes, you can see those lovely white roots so you know it’s ready to go out, as I say even though I only sowed it twelve days ago. So in that goes, couldn’t be easier. And then with this variety, which is ‘Romanesco’, I’m going to space them at a metre, because they get whopper, they’re really really huge, and water.

Succession’s really important with sowing courgettes, because otherwise you get a huge glut and whereas you’d much better get a drip, drip, drip production, so we do a triple sowing here, but some people might just want to do two, but we do a sowing in March, because we’ve got a greenhouse, and they then go out into the greenhouse in April and we started picking in May. We then do a second sowing in April which then goes out into the garden once the frosts are over in May, and we actually always do a third sowing which is we sow them in May to go out about ten days, two weeks later in June, which will keep cropping right until the end of September, and I love courgettes, so that’s why we do it like that, and there’s another thing with courgettes which I think’s incredibly important. The wonderful Rose Grey from the River Café once came here to do a demonstration about twenty years ago, and she taught me this and I have applied it ever since. You do NOT want courgettes like that, which is what you tend to get if you buy them, what you want in contrast is actually a courgette like that, and she gave me this really good measure, that you can’t lose, which is from the tip of your thumb to the base of your thumb, and that is really the ideal measurement, this one’s a tiny bit too long but it’s pretty perfect. What you get with that is really lovely nutty texture, not watery, no seeds, and just generally nicer. And if you’re growing your own courgettes, you know how prolific they are, so why not pick them when they’re at their best, rather than when they are starting to get watery and seedy, and I know marrows have become quite fashionable with chefs now, but they’re not as nice as that.

And another final thing about growing, is that once they get really lush like this, and sort of look like jungle plants, you can start to remove the leaves, and that’s actually quite important because otherwise they hide some of the nascent fruit underneath, and so then you leave them until they get too big. So just, literally just cut off some of the bigger leaves at the apex of the plant like that, and then suddenly lots more fruit underneath are revealed, and I tend to griddle them, and then freeze them if I can’t get to eating them all at once, but I do that rather than freezing them, you know straight away blanched, because with griddling them you get that lovely sweet treacly flavour which stays even if it’s been in the freezer.

Always with courgettes, of course I’m sure you know, you don’t just eat one of the parts of the plant, so you definitely want to harvest the flowers as well as the actual courgettes themselves, and I just want to explain the difference between the male and the female flower, I’m sure it’s really obvious to lots of you but I get asked this a lot. So this is the male flower, because it hasn’t got a fruit behind it, and these are perfect for stuffing, and if you go to a Mediterranean market you’ll see these sitting in little vases of water, and they’re sold by the bunch of ten or twelve and they’re for stuffing.

This is a nascent, baby, female flower, and it’s got the fruit behind it, but it has yet to really fully develop so that’s not quite big enough. And this is the perfect candidate, absolutely perfect size, with the flower on top of the fruit, so that’s a perfect, perfect female flower. And with both, you’re harvesting them, and then you just want to remove before you stuff them, you’re removing that stigma in the middle of the flower because that is a bit sort of meaty it’s not particularly nice and slightly bitter and then you’ll also want to remove the calyx like that and then that is perfect for stuffing, just leave a little bit of stem on, but not much, and you can use that to dip it into a tempura batter and then shallow fry it.

When it gets hot and dry, courgettes famously get mildew, and to avoid that, once it really heats up a bit, we start giving them a weekly dousing with chive tea, which is a brilliant organic anti-fungus treatment because it’s got sulphur, lots of sulphur in its’ leaf content, and so we just douse them with chive tea which is made by just picking bunches of chives, chucking it in water and allowing it to rot down for about ten days, taking the tea off the bottom, we tend to do it in a water butt but you can do it in anything and then just liberally sprinkle them over the plants and that will really keep mildew at bay for another two or three weeks before the end of the season.