Growing Courgettes

The How-To on Growing Courgettes

Growing courgettes is one of the easiest tasks of summer gardening. Called zucchini in the US and parts of Australia the courgette (called so in areas such as south Africa, UK and New Zealand) is a small summer squash that is firm in flesh with a similar shape to the cucumber. They are considered a vegetable to those who cook with them. Actually, however, they are the immature fruit of the female flower-the swollen ovary.

A member of the cucumber family the courgette is relative to all squashes, marrows and pumpkins. They are easy to grow, grow relatively quickly and are a healthy addition to anyone’s diet-especially when they are eaten shortly after harvesting. For use as food the courgette should be picked when it is less than eight inches long (though they can get over 1½-2 feet long) when seeds and flesh are still immature and soft.

For growing courgettes in the summer garden, seeds can be sown indoors mid March through late May depending on the growing climate. Put seeds in growing tray or cups (preferable as seedlings are large) ½ inch deep, keeping the temperature about 65-70 degrees. These plants should be hardened off (putting young plants into cold frames) if growing season is in colder zones. Plant out doors after two to three weeks when chances of frost have passed. Seeds can be planted directly outdoors in early May (weather permitting) two seeds per mound (taking out the weaker plant after germination) about three feet apart.

Courgettes prefer a heavier soil so add manure and/or compost when preparing for them. This will ensure plenty of nutrients and will help the soil to retain moisture.  When planning for growing courgettes consider their position as they do best where there is some shelter if the area is subject to cold winds and they must have a full sun.

Growing courgettes require lots of water so soak the roots on a regular basis. You can add mulch or grass clippings to help moisture retention. Generally trouble free, slugs and cold conditions are their two main menaces. Keep weed free until plants are large enough to deal with them. If the weather is unusually cold and there are a lack of insects to ensure pollination for courgettes on the table at summers end Mother Nature may need a hand.

Male flowers are found on the long thin stems while the females are on the short, fatter stems (positioned lower on the plant). If you can see what looks to be a small courgette beginning to form behind a flower you have found the female. Her flower must be pollinated by the male flower once open. If this does not occur ‘the baby’ will rot off. It is an easy process to pollinate if the need should arise. Snip the male flower and rub it gently over/against the female flower. You know you have succeeded in growing courgettes when each plant produces its average of 10-20 fruits.

Courgettes can begin to be harvested about August, cutting, not twisting the fruits off. This is the least intrusive to the plant. Choose courgettes about 4-8 inches as they get very fleshy and fibrous after this and the seeds toughen. Also keeping the plant trimmed of fruits while they are smaller encourages the plant to continue to produce.