JULY – COURGETTES/ SUMMER SQUASH
July – a time of year where you are constantly wondering ‘what do I do with all these courgettes!’ Courgettes will be growing by the day and if you take the time to blink they will have turned into giant marrows!
Every year, I plant too many plants, harvest over 200 courgettes and think ‘next year I won’t plant as many’ and then every year I suddenly panic that I won’t get any courgettes at all and plant too many plants again! It’s an endless cycle and one I am sure we are all in!
Courgettes (Cucurbita pepo var. cylindrica) are part of the squash family and are classed as a summer squash, i.e. you eat it in summer. They are related to other squash including pumpkins and butternut squash and belong to the same family as cucumbers and melons. They are are tender crop and are only in season in the warmer months when there is no sign of a frost. Courgettes can come in all shapes and sizes as well as a varieties of colours (as can be seen in the picture above). The flowers can also be eaten and are often stuffed and deep fried.
A very short history of courgettes
The ancestor to the Courgettes originally hail from Central and South America where it is thought to have been cultivated and eaten by the indigenous people there (Aztecs, Inca’s and Mayan’s) for thousands of years. Christopher Columbus brought it back with him after his travels to the ‘New World’ to the Mediterranean where the more modern variety we have now was developed further in Italy. In Britian and France it is know as the ‘courgette’ whereas in Italy and the United States it is known as ‘Zucchino/Zucchini’.
Why should we eat courgettes
Courgettes are extremely low in calories with only 17 calories per 100g which is largely due to their high water content. They don’t contain saturated fats or cholesterol and provides a source of dietary fibre, specifically soluble fibre which helps to slow digestion and stabilise blood sugar levels.
This vegetable would be excellent for those who are trying to lose weight or are watching their cholesterol levels!
Courgettes don’t have the same nutritional kick of other vegetables such as the brassicas but they do provide a good amount of vitamin C (essential for the immune system) as well as providing a good level of Potassium (good for the circulatory system).
How to grow courgettes
In my experience courgettes are relatively easy to grow and can pretty much be left to their own devices once planted in the ground.
You can sow seed indoors in March/April or outdoors directly in May after frosts have passed. Seeds should be sown individually into 8cm pots of seed compost or you can plant two seeds in one pot and then pinch out the weaker seedling. The seed should be placed on its end to prevent the seed from rotting in the wet compost and pushed 2cm deep. Keep somewhere warm and wait for seedlings to emerge. Seedlings should be transferred to larger pots of multipurpose compost when roots start to poke out from the 8cm pots.
Two weeks before planting out into permanent positions, harden off plants by placing them outside for increasingly longer spells and during milder nights to toughen them up. Once hardened off and the risk of frosts have passed, plant out. Water the plants thoroughly and keep them watered throughout the season as they require large of amounts of water for their fruits to swell and give them a regular feed too. Fruits can be harvested by cutting them away from the plant with a knife whilst holding the fruit in one hand. Try not to pull /tug the courgette away from the plant Keep picking courgettes regularly when they are about 10-12cm long to encourage further fruit production. If courgettes are left on the plants they grow very large and become marrows (form seeds in their centre) and fruit production will slow.
Powdery mildew can often be seen on leaves towards the end of the season but this doesn’t tend to affect production too much unless the attack is exceptionally bad. Keeping the plants well watered should prevent this. Cucurbits can be susceptible to foot and root rots but you are only likely to see this with unhygienic horticultural practices. Slugs can be a problem with seedlings and young plants but don’t tend to have taste for the mature established plants.
How to cook with courgettes
Courgettes don’t need to be peeled and can be sliced, chopped or cut into ribbons. They can be roasted, fried, griddled or steamed and are a great addition to many Mediterranean dishes.
Below is a few recipes for using your many courgettes!