Courgettes are frost tender vegetables that crop from midsummer onwards, just before many other vegetables mature, so they are highly useful to the gardener.
You can eat them raw, or cook them in a mixture of olive oil and butter until they’re nutty and brown.
There are yellow-skinned courgettes which look colourful on the plate, although they tend not be as tasty as the green ones. There are also round varieties in yellow and green, however most gardeners prefer sausage-shaped, dark-green courgettes with shiny skins. These smooth-skinned varieties are less prickly to handle and much less likely to turn into marrows than the stripier varieties with the pricklier foliage.
Related: courgette recipes
How to grow courgettes from seed
The beauty of raising your own courgette plants is that you can choose your own varieties rather than having to settle for what’s one offer at the garden centre.
Courgettes seeds are expensive to buy, but generally they are willing to germinate. Start with fresh seeds every year because they don’t always store well.
Raise plants in a greenhouse if possible, or on a light window sill, from April onwards. You can also sow seeds directly into the ground in June once the ground is warm.
Place the large oval seeds vertically because they can rot easily if laid out flat on to the compost.
Place one seed in a small three inch (9mm) pot full of John Innes no. 1 and water well using tap water. Ideally fill a clean watering can and allow the water to stand for several hours so that any chlorine evaporates. By then the water will warm too. After the first watering, water sparingly if needed, but don’t waterlog the pot.
Avoid using water from a water butt when watering any seeds because it encourages fungal diseases such as damping off.
Once the plant fills the three inch pot, move it up a size into a four-inch pot, because compost only has enough fertiliser for four weeks.
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Plant young courgette plants out in June, after the frosts have gone, and cloche your plants at night if you can, using a sturdy plastic belle cloche or similar. Keeping them warm at night will make all your cucurbits race away.
Once planted, feed with pelleted chicken manure to boost the nitrogen.
Keep them watered in dry conditions.
Mildew may occur in dry, warm summers so cut off any badly affected leaves and the plants will probably recover in the autumn, when the days are cooler.
When to harvest
You must cut courgettes regularly, when they’re a few inches long, to keep the crop going. If you’re away for a week try to encourage a friend of neighbour to cut them for you and then your plant should crop into late autumn.
You can also use the flowers on baby courgettes, and they’re delicious dipped in batter and fried.
Related: deep-fried courgette flower recipe
Varieties of courgette
Courgettes, like many cucurbits, have a tendency to produce male flowers before female flowers, and this holds back the crop. Plant breeders have raised parthenogenetic crops which produce flowers that don’t require pollinating. These produce the earliest crop, even if the weather is cool.
Cylindrical green Varieties
‘Parthenon F1’ (Mr Fothergill’s, Chiltern Seeds)
A self-setting AGM courgette with dark-green, shiny cylindrical fruits measuring four to six inches in length. (10-15cm)
‘Venus F1’ (widely available)
A compact AGM variety that’s ideal for a smaller garden or for a container. It’s a heavy-cropping, dark-green courgette that’s good to eat and it stays small, so it’s a personal favourite.
‘Patio Star F1’ (from Suttons and Thompson & Morgan)
A new AGM variety ( 2013), small enough to be grown in a pot, with very dark, shiny fruit on a plant that measures half the size of most.
‘Best of British F1’ (Mr Fothergill's)
Another 2013 award for a very early cropper. The spine-free leaves and open habit help deter mildew, a water-stress disease likely to appear in dry summers.
‘Romanesco’ (Seeds of Italy)
A nutty AGM Italian courgette with ridged green fruits that crops over a long period. Another personal favourite, this is a delicious courgette that crops throughout the summer and autumn.
Yellow cylindrical courgettes
‘Orelia F1’ (Kings Seeds)
A 2013 AGM for this heavy-cropping, yellow courgette that’s especially good in stir fries.
'Gold Star F1’ (Suttons)
Another 2013 award for this small patio variety that produces slender yellow fruit.
‘Piccolo F1’ (Marshalls Seeds)
Small stripy courgettes that are ideal for kebabs. It’s British-bred and crops abundantly - although the fruits will get large and marrow like.
‘One Ball F1’ (Dobies Seeds)
Round yellow ball courgette with tennis-ball sized fruits that are perfect to stuff, eat raw or stir fry.
'Eclipse F1’ (Thompson & Morgan)
British-bred, new variety with green, stripy golf-ball sized courgettes. Can be sliced raw into salads, or stir-fried, or skewered for the barbeque. Mature fruits are the perfect shape and size for stuffing and roasting.
Related: fruit and veg growing guides
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