Prepare the Site: Choose a sunny, sheltered spot and improve the soil by digging in some well-rotted manure or compost. The simplest way to prepare the ground is to dig a hole 30cm (12in) deep and 45cm (18in) across and fill it with well rotted compost or manure. Cover with a 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) layer of soil to make a raised mound that will provide drainage along with a rich source of nutrients. Each courgette plant will need 1m square (3ft sq) in order to spread and avoid competing with nearby plants. (Alternatively you can grow them in large containers). To get the best results ensure you have good, nutritious growing compost and that you feed them through the season.

Sowing: Sow indoors in pots September to December or sow direct from mid November to early summer.

Sowing indoors: Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with compost and firm gently. Sow a seed on its side (reduces the risk of damping off disease) 2.5cm (1in) deep and cover. Label, water and put in a propagator or on a window sill. When roots begin to show through the bottom of the pot, put into a 12.5cm (5in) container. Hardened off before planting them outside, once all danger of frost has passed. Plant into growing bags, soil or a large pot If seedlings are planted out too early, and exposed to a period of cold weather, it can set back their development for the whole growing season.

Sowing directly outdoors: Sow seed outdoors spacing about 90cm (3ft) apart. Place two seeds together at each 'station' and once the seeds have germinated; thin out the weakest seedling. Outdoor sown seed will normally do best if it is given some protection such as a cloche.

Cultivation: Plenty of water is essential, especially when the plants are in flower and then when the fruits have started to swell. Mulch to lock in moisture. If you dig in plenty of manure before planting, additional feeding is unnecessary on heavy, fertile soil. On sandy or light soil, regular drenches with a liquid feed will help boost production. Plants under glass should be hand pollinated. The female flowers are distinguished by the swelling below the bloom. Male flowers have a prominent central core, bearing yellow pollen. The male flower is first to appear and the female flowers will follow. To hand pollinate, remove the petals from a male flower; push the core into the centre of the female flower. For a high success rate, use a different male for each female flower.

Harvesting: To keep plants productive you need to harvest courgettes about three times a week at the height of the season. Pick when they are 10cm (4in) long. Use a sharp knife to sever the fruit from the plant. Courgettes are best eaten fresh or can be stored for a few days in the fridge.

Edible Flowers: Courgette flowers feature in a variety of recipes, stuffed, sautéed, baked and even used in soup. Unlike the courgette itself, you MUST cook the flowers before you eat them. Select flowers which look firm, fresh and that are only slightly open and eat them on the day you pick them as they don’t keep well. You’ll need to remove the pistils from the flower, cut the stem close to the flower and wash and dry it before cooking. Stuffed courgette flowers are a typical Italian dish that is becoming more popular in the UK. Female blooms produce the vegetable but the male flowers are there just to look pretty so utilise these buttercup-coloured flowers by stuffing them with soft cheese, then covering them in a light batter (such as a tempura) and deep-frying them – delicious, though not exactly figure-friendly.

Vegetable or Fruit? Although we think of courgettes as being a vegetable they are technically a fruit. This is because the courgette we eat is the ripened ovary of the flower. Other fruits disguised as vegetables include the tomato, the aubergine, peppers and being closely related to the courgette, the cucumber, pumpkin and squash.

Nomenclature Courgettes are merely marrows harvested young although only tender skinned cultivars are suitable for growing as courgettes. Courgette is French for small squash – courge meaning squash or marrow. And the Italian zucchini (or zucca) means the same. They are often called zucchini especially in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia and are also known as Italian squash.

Things We Grow