Courgettes are one of the easiest and most prolific of home-grown crops. Just one plant can provide three or fruit a week, perfect for adding a Mediterranean flavour to your meals.
Known as zucchini in some countries, they are technically a fruit but most people think of them as vegetables.
They are part of the squash family, along with pumpkins and butternuts, and plants can be trailing, or bushy.
There’s also far more than the traditional long green variety available with courgettes that are yellow, striped, or round.
In France, they are one of the main ingredients in ratatouille, while in Italy the flowers, sometimes with a cheese stuffing, are dipped in batter and fried.
As the plants are susceptible to frost, they are best started off in April under cover either indoors or in a greenhouse, ready to go outside once all risk of frost has passed.
Sow two or three seeds in a pot, placing them on their sides to reduce the risk of rot, around 2.5cm deep. Put in a heated propagator or put the bags inside a clear plastic bag. After germination, remove the bag or take the pot out of the propagator. Seedlings should be thinned, leaving the strongest. This can then be grown on before hardening off prior to moving it outside. Alternatively, plants are available in most garden centres in spring.
When it comes to planting out, generally at the end of May or beginning of June, choose a sunny spot and enrich the soil with compost. You can also grow one or two plants in a growbag.
Courgettes need a lot of water so setting them in a hollow so that water pools towards the plant helps. Do try to avoid getting water on the leaves though. Feeding the plants regularly will also help with cropping.
Slugs and snails also like young plants so they will need protecting until they get established.
Common problems include powdery mildew caused by dry soil and fruit rotting while still small, usually the result of cool weather.
Courgettes are at their very best when small so once the plants start to produce, it’s vital to keep picking or you will end up with marrows – do check carefully as they are easily hidden by the plant’s leaves. Keeping on top of harvesting will also ensure a long cropping season and a summer filled with Mediterranean flavour.