Would you believe that pumpkins and zucchini come from the same species of plant? That’s right—they’re both cultivated varieties (“cultivars”) of Cucurbita pepo.
Despite the great diversity of squash, most commonly-grown cultivars belong to one of three species: Cucurbita pepo, C. moschata, or C. maxima. Over generations and generations, these plants have been cultivated to produce fruit in all kinds of shapes, colors, and flavors.
Courgettes are warm climate vegetables requiring an optimum temperature of 15-22C. They require an optimum water supply of 800mm during the vegetative growth period, however, with irrigation they can be grown in dry areas with little rainfall.
They can be grown in altitudes of 500-2000 metres above sea level, and on a wide range of well drained light loam, fertile soils, with PH of 5.5-7.5.
Courgettes can be grown all-year round except during periods of heavy rains as they destroy the flowers and promote diseases like mildews.
Plant seeds directly in the main field at a spacing of 150cm by 60cm. sow 2-3 seeds per hill then thin 2 weeks after emergence to one plant per hill. Seed rate range from 68kg per hectare.It is important to mention that zucchinis are not tolerant to humidity, which causes mildew. Therefore, plant them in full sun.
To improve the germination rate, soak the seeds for three days between two wet kitchen towels. Use only seeds that have partly germinated. Sow three seeds at 1.5cm deep per planting hole. Then thin out to the most vigorous plant after two to three weeks.
Alternatively, you can grow two plants at opposite edges of the seedbed. Some varieties might need a climbing support to improve air circulation around the plant.
Zucchinis can be grown all-year round except during periods of heavy rains as they destroy the flowers and promote mildew.
Growing vines need to be supported regularly to avoid breakage or touching the ground. Most varieties, however form big, sturdy non-climbing plants.
Pests and diseases
The crops are attacked by pests and diseases similar to those that affect cucumber, melon and pumpkin although zucchini is the toughest of them all.
They include fruit flies, epilachna beetle, spider mite, white fly, powdery and downy mildew and wet rot (if vines are grown on the ground), mosaic virus and wilt.
Virus diseases can be avoided by:
- Use tolerant / or resistant varieties if available.
- Remove infected plants (disinfect hands and tools with 70% alcohol after contact with infected plants).
- Do proper weeding.
- Control insect vectors. A sustainable approach of controlling aphids is important to prevent aphids reaching the crops and transmitting virus.
- In case of squash mosaic virus use disease-free seeds.
Keep the soil around the plants moist, water heavily around the plants (not over them) in dry weather. Keep the soil around the plants moist, water heavily around the plants (not over them) in dry weather.
I like to mulch around the plants with straw as it helps moisture retention but also keeps the developing fruits off the ground. Make sure you keep an eye out for slugs at this stage as the broad, shady leaves make a lovely dark habitat for them. If the weather is cold or it’s early in the season you may need to hand pollinate your plants. This will increase the amount of fruit set.
Harvest your courgettes as soon as they reach the required size. The first one or two courgettes tend to rot at the ends, but it’s nothing to worry about. If you remove the flowers as the fruits swell it will be less of a problem.
Courgettes get big very quickly and at full production you can be harvesting two or 3 times a week. For this reason I’d harvest the fruit when quite small, it tastes much better and there will be another along in a couple of days anyway. You can if you wish let the courgettes grow on to marrow size but this will take a lot of energy from the plant thus stopping the growth of new fruits.
To harvest cut the fruit at the base with a sharp knife taking care not to damage the plant. Continual picking is important to keep the plant producing. It’s also worth remembering that the flowers can also be eaten and are beautiful as a garnish on a bed of salad.