Courgettes

growing_courgettesProbably the best value of any mid to late summer vegetable the courgette plant simply goes on giving….if managed correctly. This is the key point. It is no good planting a courgette and disappearing on holiday. The fruits need to be picked on a regular basis otherwise they turn into marrows in the blink of an eye and the plant is rendered pretty much useless. If picked regularly they will continue to produce deep into the autumn, and lets be honest the smaller they are picked the more delicious they are.

They are a good choice for a large pot, at least twenty litres as long as it can be filled with a rich soil and be watered regularly for courgettes are both hungry and thirsty. Along with this they need sunshine to really flourish, no shade for these, hot conditions are a must.

Sow seed

Sowing should be done indoors in April. They like warm compost. Given that they will germinate quickly. I sow one seed to a nine centimetre pot which can then be planted directly into the soil when its ready without any pricking put or potting up varieties, successional sowing.

A tip here is that the seed should be placed on edge in the compost (one cm deep). Don’t place it flat because water can gather around it and this may lead to rotting.

You can often find courgette plants in garden centres and other odd places like health food shops for sale as gardeners bring them in or have excess. Garden fetes or plant stalls.

Soil preparation

The garden soil needs to be nice and crumbly with plenty of compost or well rotted manure laid on the surface. About a bucket full per square metre. There is no need to dig it in, let the worms do that.

Each plant will need about a metre square space in which to grow. Cougettes are bush plants rather than trailers like pumpkins and squashes which ramble all over the place.

The courgettes are ready to plant out when the roots are showing at the bottom of the 9cm pot and the compost doesn’t collapse when you extricate the plant from the pot. They will usually be about 20-25cm high at this stage. Water well at planting and don’t forget to firm the plant in properly before watering.

Crop maintenance

The plants will grow fast because by planting out time when the frost is over and the early summer is upon us (end May) the soil will be warm and this is what most garden plants like.

There is no need for any staking or support but you will notice that when the plants grow big they lean over and rest on the ground for support. This is fine but you do have to watch for slugs. And also beware because the plant is hairy and can be a little spiny on the main stem. These spines can catch you by surprise so take care in the handling.

Once they are in there is no maintenance, only picking. Watering will not be necessary unless they are in containers.

Harvesting.

I reckon you need one courgette plant for every member of your family because once you get cooking with them there is no summer vegetable like them. Begin harvesting when the fruits are the length of your middle finger. Never let them get any bigger than a banana, and if any do then be sure to cut them off the plant because otherwise the plant puts all its energy into growing that one single marrow and not lots of smaller courgettes.

The other bit of the plant that is worth harvesting and cooking is the big yellow trumpet flower that you get on courgettes, especially early in the summer. These can be delicious deep fried in a light batter (some put an anchovy in!). harvesting the flowers will not hinder fruit production; you can harvest them at will. The plants are self-fertile.

Pests and diseases

Courgettes are trouble free. Keep an eye out for slugs and don’t worry about the grey/white powdery mildew that might discolour the plant as the summer goes on. It won’t cause any harm.

Cooking

Courgettes are a summer staple and recipes abound. My two favourite are to have them sliced ultra thin with a potato peeler and fried in garlic and butter, and next best to cook them on a griddle. Never show a courgette water, like spinach.

Crop removal

Get your gloves on when the season is over and pull the plant out of the soil, roots and all, bash it up with a fork or spade and put it on the compost heap. It will rot down very quickly as it is all water.

Seed saving

This is a good idea. Towards the end of the season let one courgette grow big until it is marrow size. Then cut it off the plant and store in a dry, cool shed, free from anything that might be tempted like mice or rats (hanging up in a net is good). After a month cut the fruit open and scoop out the seeds on to newspaper. Remove as much flesh as possible and let the seeds dry out further. The environment must be dry but not hot. Once any remaining flesh has shriveled and dried off around the seeds they will be ready to be put into a tin for storage until sowing in the spring.

Courgettes contain very few calories and have a high water content, which makes them a dieter’s friend. They aren’t a powerhouse of micronutrients, but they do provide useful amounts of immune system-boosting vitamin C, and significant levels of potassium, which is key to controlling blood pressure. The soluble fibre in the skin slows down digestion, and so stabilises blood sugar and insulin levels. Soluble fibre also helps prevent constipation and relieves irritable bowel symptoms because it aids the movement of food through the system.

 

 

 

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