Growing your own vegetables is one of the most rewarding things you can do in your garden. The good news is that anyone can have a go – you don’t need a degree in horticulture and it’s certainly not rocket science. All it takes is a packet of good quality seeds from a reputable suppliers such as Seed Parade, a patch of soil and a few basic garden tools. Regular watering and some sunny weather will do the rest.
Courgettes are some of the most versatile vegetables to use in the kitchen, and one of easiest plants to grow. Once established, they require hardly any attention and will reward you richly for your meagre efforts. In fact, all you need is two courgette plants as they will produce plenty of crops for the average family all summer long.
Depending on the weather, you can sow courgettes indoors and plant out later, or sow them straight into the veg bed once the risk of frost has passed. For indoor sowing, you need small 7cm pots and fine seed compost, sowing compost or regular potting compost. Place a courgette seed about 1cm deep into each compost filled pot and water in. Leave on a sunny window sill or in a propagator to germinate, keeping the soil moist but not overwatered. After about 3 weeks, the courgette seedlings will be ready for a bigger 12cm pot with some fresh compost.
Once your courgette plants are strong enough, they’re ready for planting out. However, if they’ve been raised indoors, they’ll need to ‘harden off’ to get used to the outdoor conditions first, which will take about a week. Place the pots in an unheated room, or straight outside, and use a cloche or mini greenhouse to provide protection from the cold weather if necessary, particularly at night. This may not be necessarily if the weather is mild.
Alternatively, you can sow courgette seeds outdoors in a greenhouse or polytunnel, making sure to protect them with fleece at night in case of frost damage until it’s warm enough.
Of course, for those with little patience or limited time availability, you can skip the whole ‘growing from seed’ step completely. Instead, simply pop to your local garden centre and buy plug plants that are ready to go into the ground – simples.
Planting out courgettes
Once you’ve prepared your seedlings for planting out, or sourced courgette plantlets from the garden centre, wait for a nice warm day in late May or June, and pick a sunny growing spot that offers some protection from strong winds.
It may not look like it now but courgette plants will spread out – they need a lot of space. Once the plant starts growing, its leaves will become enormous and will shade out anything else growing nearby. When planting out, leave 1 metre between plants – honestly, it will all make sense in the weeks to come.
Courgettes are hungry plants; they love a rich soil. Spread some fertiliser (chicken or poultry manure pellets are perfect) around a 1 metre wide area around the plant, bearing in mind that the roots will spread as much as the leaves.
While the plants are still tender, they’re very appealing to slugs and snails, so make sure you have adequate slug protection in place – slug pellets (preferably organic) or a beer trap should do the job.
Once the plants are in the ground, keep the soil around them moist, making sure to water regularly and plentifully in dry weather. To help moisture retention and to keep the developing fruit off the ground, you can mulch around the plants with straw – but this is entirely optional and perhaps a step too far for the reluctant gardener.
If you’ve given your courgette plants plenty of water in the right growing conditions, you’ll see them thrive and grow happily, bearing gorgeous deep yellow flowers before producing fruit.
To harvest, cut the courgette at the base with a sharp knife, being careful not to damage the rest of the plant. Make sure you harvest your courgettes as soon as they reach the required size – they’re best picked smaller rather than larger for flavour.
Courgettes hold a lot of water and the fruit can get very big very quickly. In the middle of the summer, you could well be picking courgettes 4 times a week since courgettes are such prolific producers! Continued picking is important for the plant to keep producing.
You can, of course, let the courgettes grow to marrow size – they grow so quickly that this may happen anyway if you forget to harvest for a few days. However, large fruit will take a lot of energy from the plant and may stop the growth of new fruits.
Finally, don’t forget that courgette flowers are also edible – deep fried and stuffed courgette flowers are a delicacy!