You can buy them at the supermarket, you can pick up some packets of seeds from the corner shop, or you could just get yourself down to the local garden centre and try growing your own. However there is one thing they all have in common – they’re not going to be as big as what I grew back home.
I know that when my mum was alive she would come over for Sunday lunches where we would eat fresh vegetables straight out of the ground (or soil). It didn’t matter if it took weeks for anything to sprout because it tasted so good. My dad used to joke about how much more ‘mature’ his courgettes were than mine which always made me laugh but also made me miss her very much .
Growing your own food is something everyone should do even though most people don’t actually want to spend their weekends picking carrots off the floor or trying to find room in the greenhouse for another cucumber. If you live somewhere that has particularly cold winters then maybe growing things like cabbages and spring onions will suit you better. But otherwise, why not give raising courgettes a go? They are easy to grow, extremely versatile and taste delicious. And once you start eating them regularly you might end up getting hooked – who knows!
A lot of people ask me whether it’s possible to grow courgettes indoors with artificial lighting rather than relying on sunlight. The answer is yes, although these types of lights aren’t ideal for this job. You’ll need high-pressure sodium lamps instead of normal fluorescent tubes. These are available online and cost around £60 per metre. You may also wish to consider using an LED light strip such as those produced by Groluxe. This type of system costs less and doesn’t require any complicated wiring.
If you’re thinking about starting your own vegetable patch then here are a few tips for successful cultivation…
Courgettes are grown from little green seedlings called “seedlings”. After sowing the seeds into potting compost mix (which is usually peat based) wait until the mixture dries out slightly before watering it well with water. Then cover the pots loosely with cling film to maintain moisture levels while germinating. Once shoots appear remove the lid completely to let air circulate freely. Keep the temperature between 18°C and 20°C during daytime hours and 15°C at night. Use a timer to regulate evening temperatures. When the first leaves emerge transplant into larger containers with plenty of space to grow.
When the plants reach about 6cm tall, thin each courgette to encourage branching. Also pinch off side buds to promote bushing. Pinching encourages branching too. As soon as new growths begin, cut back hard and snip away flowers. Continue cutting back the foliage throughout the summer months. In late autumn prune the plants to shape and size them according to your requirements. Fertilise with slow release nitrogen rich granules twice weekly through the winter to help strengthen roots. Give extra potassium through the winter months to improve yields. Harvest when needed.
Most varieties mature within 60 days after planting. Courgettes take longer to bear fruit than other crops. For example, zucchini takes 65 days whereas yellow crookneck does 55 days. Some varieties produce early season fruits, others later ones. A number of factors affect yield including location, climate and variety. There is no single standard practice for cultivating or harvesting courgettes. Experimentation may prove fruitful.
How to keep courgette plants warm
It goes without saying that courgettes love warmth and sunshine. So make sure they get enough of both. During hot weather use shade cloth to protect young plants from scorching sun rays. Cover older plants with fleece fabric to retain heat. Remove husks and siliques when ripe to prevent birds stealing them.
There are many different ways to propagate courgettes. Here are two methods that work really well.
Make small cuttings below stems of established plants. Dip stem ends gently in rooting hormone solution. Plant in individual pots filled with moist vermiculite. Water thoroughly and place under bright indirect light. Thin out weak specimens after 2-3weeks.
Sow the tiny seeds directly in the ground beneath the parent plant. Sprinkle lightly with fine sand to allow drainage. Sow thinly along rows spaced 30cm apart with 10-15cm gap between rows. Allow to germinate and grow naturally. Transplant when large enough to handle. Each year sow again in mid July. Be aware that some varieties flower prolifically and reduce overall production.
To maximise the amount of time spent tending your crop you may wish to cultivate several smaller patches in succession. To avoid cross contamination by diseases spread by pests, weeds and fungi, separate each patch with layers of wood chippings or straw mulch. Grow multiple batches of plants in trays or boxes placed close together in order to minimise the distance travelled by airborne spores.
Courgette to Marrow…
Courgettes are easy to grow but you need to follow certain guidelines in order to achieve good results. Here are some tips to help you grow a courgette into a big marrow…
Start early – Courgettes can easily be grown from seed although starting from cuttings works best. You should sow the seeds once temperatures begin to increase above 15°C. Sow seeds directly into potting compost and cover lightly with fine soil. Water thoroughly and keep moist until germination occurs. Once sprouted, remove young plants gently from the tray/pot and place in individual containers filled with rich organic matter such as leaf mould. This helps encourage strong root growth. After a week or so, transplant carefully into larger planters or tubs filled with nutrient-rich soil and water regularly. Keep well watered and watch for signs of new shoots emerging. As soon as leaves appear, pinch back to promote bushing. Marrow roots become established during the winter months and you may notice that the stems swell slightly. Harvesting takes place when the flowers develop and ripen fully.
Keep well fed – Feed newly planted courgettes liberally with liquid feed specially formulated for courgettes throughout the summer period. Don’t worry if weather conditions dictate, apply sparingly using watering cans. Use a slow release fertiliser to avoid excess nitrogen build up. Note however that excessive feeding encourages lush tops resulting in smaller yields and increased disease susceptibility. Remove foliage as required to allow air circulation around base of stem.
Don’t pick until blossom ends appear – Pick when flower buds are beginning to break down and form tightly packed clusters. At this stage, courgettes are relatively free of blemishes and aphids. Wait until the end of the season when blossoms fade and fruit matures before harvesting. Avoid picking immature fruits whilst still attached to the vine since they must remain firmly connected to prevent wind damage and premature rotting. Fruit picked too early becomes bitter tasting due to exposure to sunlight. Choose firm plump fruits without blemish marks or soft spots. Try to eat immediately rather than store.
A variety called ‘Red Ace’ has recently gained popularity among growers across Europe. Its taste resembles a sweet potato combined with a subtle hint of cucumber. Other varieties include ‘Blue Crescents’, ‘Pink Delight’, ‘Royal Burgundy’ and ‘Black Knight’. These last two are particularly useful for slicing when cooked because of their high yield potential. All of these varieties are suited to container culture.
How to grow a large marrow
If you’ve followed the advice given here, chances are you’ll find yourself having trouble deciding whether to harvest your crop now or wait another month or so. That’s understandable considering that a courgette usually grows between 20cm and 30cm depending upon its type. Nowadays many supermarkets sell specimens measuring 40cm and sometimes beyond. So what do you do? Well, if you’re lucky enough to live near a farmer’s market, ask him/her politely to let you know when marrow production begins. Otherwise, try visiting your local veggie patch and talking to experienced growers. You might be surprised at what information you gather simply by observing. Another way is to go online and search forums dedicated to specific vegetable crops like courgettes. Or perhaps you’d prefer to visit a nursery instead. Nurseries tend to stock lots of different species of plants including courgettes. Just walk around and look for interesting specimens. Many nurseries will provide extra support via either telephone or email. Also check out websites devoted to rare breeds of vegetables and fruits. Some of these sites offer detailed instructions on cultivating specific kinds of foodstuffs.
Whatever method you choose, don’t forget that courgettes are sensitive to cold. Make sure that you protect tender plants with fleece blankets and hampers.