Courgettes are now a common, summer staple in the vegetable garden. They are relatively easy to grow and they can be added to salads and eaten raw, or lightly steamed or roasted.
Courgettes and marrows are actually the same thing – leave a courgette to mature on the plant and it will become a marrow! But, courgette varieties have been bred to produce a lot of small, tasty fruit.
Most families only need 1 or 2 plants to be self-sufficient in these prolific producers, which will produce masses of courgettes if picked small and regularly.
Courgettes prefer a sheltered position in full sun and a fertile soil that holds plenty of moisture.
They are reasonably large plants, so need plenty of room, spacing them up to 90cm (3ft) apart. Some more compact varieties are also available - and these are also best suited for growing in containers.
For best results, they can be grown in planting pockets. Roughly 2 to 3 weeks before sowing seed or planting out, dig a hole 30cm (12in) square and deep and fill with a mixture of compost or well-rotted manure and soil. Leave a low mound at the top and sprinkle a general feed over the soil.
As courgettes need plenty of water, sink a 15cm (6in) pot alongside them when planting out. Watering into the pot ensures the water goes down to the roots and doesn't sit around the neck of the plant, which can lead to rotting. It also keeps it off the foliage, which helps reduce problems with powdery mildew.
There are numerous excellent courgette varieties - including those producing round or yellow fruit: Defender, Eight Ball (round), Gold Rush (yellow), One Ball (round & yellow), Parador, Sunburst (yellow), Tondo di Chiario Nizza, Zuccini.
For the best results, sow the seeds indoors from mid- to late April 13mm (1/2in) deep individually in 7.5-9cm (3-31/2in) pots of seed sowing compost. Place the pots in a propagator or other warm place at 18-21C (65-70F). Harden off the young plants for 7-10 days before planting outside in late May/early June after the fear of frosts has passed.
Outside, sow 2 or 3 seeds 2.5cm (1in) deep in the planting pocket in late May or early June and cover with a cloche or jam jar. Thin the young seedlings to leave just the strongest one.
As the young plants are susceptible to frost and cold weather, cover them with fleece or a cloche if the weather turns cold.
Keep the soil constantly moist by watering the soil around the plants - not over them - whenever needed. Once the first fruit starts to swell, feed every 10-14 days with a high potash liquid feed.
Harvest courgettes when they are 10-12.5cm (4-5in) long. Regular picking when they are small ensures a long cropping period over several months
They produce large crops, so one or two plants is all that's needed to feed even the largest family.
Courgettes may be susceptible to the following problems.
Lack of fruit set or young fruit rotting