Courgettes originate from central and South America where they have been eaten for thousands of years. Christopher Columbus brought them to the Mediterranean around 500 years ago.
The varieties that we grow today evolved in Italy, most probably at the end of the 19th century. Early varieties will often have the name of nearby cities in their name, e.g. Verdi di Milano; Striato d’Napoli, Tondo di Piacenza, Trieste White Cousa Courgette.
Courgettes are part of the gourd/squash family.
Growing Courgettes from Seed
Sow courgette seeds indoors, from April through to late May.
Courgette love warmth and seeds will only germinate at temperatures above 17 degrees centigrade.
Sow seeds in 3 inch pots using a good quality compost. Sow the seed upright and cover with about half an inch of compost. Water well, label and either cover with cling film or place in a propagator. Ensure the compost doesn’t dry out. The seedlings should appear within a few days. They grow at a rapid rate so it’s likely the seedling will need to be repotted.
Before planting out, the plants will need to be hardened off. Place them into a cold frame at least two weeks before planting. Make sure all risk of frost has gone before planting out.
Plant in a sunny position, ensuring the plants are spaced three feet apart. They grow huge!
Courgettes are hungry feeders so will benefit from plenty of organic matter. As they are large leafy plants they will draw a lot of moisture from the ground, so ensure they are watered regularly. Additional feeding may also be beneficial, but avoid nitrogen rich fertilizers, as this will encourage lush sappy growth making the plant more prone to fungal infection.
Whilst courgettes require a lot of moisture there is a risk the plant will rot if there is too much moisture around the base of the plant. Good drainage is therefore essential. Target the roots and try not to water the foliage to help prevent fungal infections.
Keep the plants moist throughout the growing season especially when the fruit starts to grow.
Courgettes produce two types of flower, the male and the female. Fruit is only formed if the male flower pollinates the female flower. Plenty of bees are required to help pollination.
The Male flower grows on a long stalk on the actual stem of the plant, usually on the leaf axils (where a leaf meets the stem). The male flowers do not produce fruit. The male flower will last longer than the female flower and it is typically smaller.
The female flowers tend to be much larger and grow on the end of each emergent courgette. This will look much shorter than the stem the male flower grows on. If the female flower isn’t pollinated the baby courgette may grow for a bit but will eventually either dry out or rot off. If there is a lack of insect activity to pollinate the plants the other option is to hand pollinate. (Just sounds wrong to me!). This is done by removing the corolla from the male flower and brushing it against the stigmas of the female flower (it’s sounding worse!).
Harvest the courgettes when they are about 3 to 4 inches long. Cut the fruit rather than breaking them off to avoid damaging the plant. Harvest regularly to encourage the development for new fruit. Each plant should produce around 20 courgettes throughout the growing season.
Growing courgettes is fairly easy and trouble free. The courgettes number one enemy is the SLUG!
Best things to deter to deter slugs are:
Place grit around the young plants. Slugs hate grit as it rips their slimy little bellies.
Oatmeal is one of the slug’s most favourite foods; after tender young seedlings. Place a pile close to the courgette plant. The slugs won’t be able to resist. After eating the oatmeal swells up inside the slug and they eventually explode…
Beer traps. Slugs love beer, in particular stout. Slugs are attracted by the yeasty scent; they fall into the trap, get drunk and drown. All parties are happy!
Check regularly under stones and pots. Slugs and snails love to hide on cool damp places. Collect and feed to chickens who like nothing more than a snaily/sluggy snack.
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that infects the squash family. Oddly it thrives when the days are dry and warm but the nights turn cooler, typically around late August early September.
Try to avoid overcrowding and promote good airflow to reduce humidity. Also try to avoid watering the actual leaves, stems and fruits.
As soon as you see an infected leaf cut it off to try and prevent the fungus spreading.
There are mixed thoughts on whether infected leaves can be composted or not. Probably best not to compost the leaves but to burn them instead to ensure the spores don’t survive.
Once powdery mildew takes hold it will stunt the growth of the plant and affect the plants ability to produce fruit. In severe cases the leaves will turn yellow and eventually die back.