Butternut squash

Grow courgettes and squash

If you want amazingly speedy (and usually pretty easy) returns from your veg plot, make sure you grow some courgettes and a squash or two. I think of them as the sunflowers of the vegetable world – super-speedy growth and it still fascinates me how so much can come so fast from just one medium-sized seed!

Kitchen stalwarts

Squash and courgette are both really useful vegetables with a myriad of culinary uses: I adore courgettes raw – thinly sliced, grated or spiralized in salads, lightly steamed, fried in garlic, cooked in batter, stir fried, made into courgette soufflé or fritters ….the list goes on.

As for squash, my favourite is the butternut – a wonderful winter vegetable, especially when roasted or made into butternut squash risotto or soup….I could go on, but believe me these really are two fantastic vegetables!

Easy to grow

Planting a courgette plant
Planting a courgette plant. Image: Martin Mulchinock

There is still plenty of time to sow seed for either of these crops or you can save yourself time and order some garden-ready plants. If you do buy them in as plants, remember that both these types of plants are tender so they will need a good warm spot with plenty of natural light until all danger of frost is past. Ideally try not to get them before May, unless you have a greenhouse or similar. We dispatch the ‘Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood’ courgettes and squash in mid-May, just to ensure people don’t have frosted disasters. Take a look at www.pippagreenwood.com/grow-your-own.

Growing tips

Courgettes are so easy to grow in the garden. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Courgettes and squash both need plenty of moisture, sun and a good supply of food, so it is always worth incorporating some well-rotted manure or garden compost in to the soil before planting – that bit of extra effort makes for better crops and less watering time later on too.

Choosing the right spot is important for best results but if dappled shade is all you have, I’d still say have a go, just make sure that you keep the plants well fed and watered.

They are both easy crops to grow: Just keep some garden fleece to hand in case the weather turns nasty early on, ensure the soil is always just moist and give them an occasional high-potash feed, (try Flower Power).

Growing problems

Luckily there are only three common problems I suggest you really watch out for:

  • Happy looking plants with flowers but few fruits : This suggests soil conditions which are too dry: the plant responds by producing a host of male flowers and few female ones, hence the tiny crop. Good soil preparation, plenty of moisture and maybe even a mulch will all help to decrease the risk of this developing.
  • Fruits form but only get to be a few centimetres long before they yellow, wither and rot : This is always much more prevalent in wet or damp years because the problem starts when the flowers (which are easily damaged by wet weather) start to rot, then the rot spreads into the developing fruit…with disastrous consequences! You can do nothing to stop rain but if you water the plants, make sure you never water over the top of the plant, but always direct to the soil. In wet years I also remove the flowers as soon as the fruitlet has set, because if there’s nothing to rot, there will be no rotting of the fruits.
  • Powdery mildew causes a white dusty coating on the leaves and stems and may result in foliage death. Luckily this is generally worse towards the end of the season but if it strikes when the plants are in full flow, I suggest cutting off infected leaves as this will reduce the chances of further infections and also help to improve air circulation. Mildew is also encouraged by damp foliage, so again, watering only at the base is important.

I’ve yet to eat any home grown courgette or squash which wasn’t delicious but when it comes to butternut squash I do find that there are some varieties which tend to fare better in poor British summers – may favourites all begin with an ‘H’ – Hunter, Harrier and, best of all, Hawk, all delicious and inclined to crop pretty well even in a gloomy UK summer. If you fancy growing this, plus a lovely selection of my other favourite vegetable varieties, all accompanied by my weekly advice emails sent direct to your inbox, do take a look at www.pippagreenwood.com/grow-your-own , but hurry as we’re dispatching the plants in mid-May.

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