Go to the garden centre and you’ll be presented with a bewildering display of seeds from several suppliers. Open a seed catalogue, and the choice is even broader. The beginner gardener could be forgiven for buying the one in the prettiest packaging, or running from the shop screaming. So in this blog post I’ll tell you what I grow and why, and making other suggestions.
The first source of confusion is the term “F1 Hybrid”. This is where two different parent types of the plant, with specific characteristics are crossed such that the offspring have these specific characteristics. Because this cross-fertilisation takes a lot of intervention by the plant breeder, the seeds tend to be more expensive than seeds from plants allowed to be fertilised naturally such as by bees. Sometimes they are a lot more expensive. So are they worth it? The answer is a cop-out on my part: It depends.
For courgettes the answer may well be “yes” because cucurbits are susceptible to a number of diseases like cucumber mosaic virus (which can also be carried on passionflower) and the problem that bugs me on my dry, well-drained soil; powdery mildew. This last nuisance is basically as the name describes, a powdery coating on the leaves which renders them unsightly and less effective. When I had an allotment on heavy clay, it wasn’t a problem until the very end of the season, November time, so I could get away with growing the cheap and cheerful, open pollinated “All Green Bush”, but my soil is now very well drained, and Essex gets the same amount of rainfall as Jordan, so the plants are often water-stressed. (By that I mean going short of water.) Water stress makes the plant more susceptible to powdery mildew. Making the soil more water retentive helps, which is another benefit of manure, regular watering would also help, but in a busy lifestyle, that’s not always possible, so the next option is to grow courgettes which are resistant to mildew.
Soon after moving to Essex I discovered “Astia” by Johnson’s seeds. (http://www.johnsons-seeds.com/Home_4/Courgette-Seed_4/Courgette-Astia-F1.html#.VRhZ7elFB9A These grew well for me in my back garden until the trees grew up and the neighbours built an extension. They are still a favourite of mine, and are indeed milder resistant. At £2.49 for ten seeds, it’s easy to think they are too expensive, but the seeds remain viable for a good number of years, even past the “use by” date, if stored cool and dry, so a packet lasts me several years, because I only grow one or two of each variety. So for about 50p I get two of the plants I want, with a backup if these get damaged by pests, and less worry about disease.
My labelling tends to get lost in the garden, I am ashamed to say, so I can’t say how disease resistant other varieties that I have tried are, except that one year my yellow ones were distorted and I strongly suspected cucumber mosaic virus, so the plants had to be destroyed. This does not mean all yellow ones are vulnerable, so if you fancy yellow ones, give it a go. I’m not sure that yellow ones are quite so prolific, but may be wrong there. The round courgettes are good for stuffing, but I have had problems cutting them from the plant – a variety to grow if you have room for several plants, perhaps, but if you are committing to one plant, I’d opt for a green, disease resistant one.
“Defender” F1 is supposed to be resistant to mosaic virus, so if you grow passion flowers, that might be a useful choice. I would also choose it if bryony grows nearby, as white bryony is in the cucumber family, though poisonous. (https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=783)
I don’t think I have tried Defender, but I have tried Primula, which, like Astia, is mildew resistant. Midnight is a useful courgette because it grows well in tubs. Black Beauty has fruit with lovely dark skin.
I used to grow one called the Lebanese courgette, but haven’t done so since moving to Essex. It had a wonderful flavour.
I have tried Patriot and Mikonos, both of which grew well, but one of which was not good for mildew – if only I could remember which one.
A couple of years ago I grew Striato D’Italia, (Seeds of Italy) and they were very good to eat. I tried them because I got the seeds cheap at the end of the season. Unfortunately I left the rest of the packet in the greenhouse in the searing heat and fear they might be dead. I’ll see.
I see from the seed catalogues a couple more which might be worth trying. Black Forest F1 has a climbing habit, so would do well with support, say, against a fence, and Parthenon, which is tolerant of gloomy British summers. I have no personal experience of either, but know that productivity of ordinary courgettes in shady positions is compromised. They need sunshine to form the female flowers.
Sowing the seeds is simple. I use a peat pot and a mixture of John Innes No 2, Horizons Peat free Grow bag and perlite. The instructions suggest planting 2 per 3 inch pot, removing the weaker one, but I don’t bother because often there isn’t a weaker one and it’s hard to kill a seedling. And with F1 seeds, that’s expensive waste. If the seedling looks poor, though, don’t plant it out.
The seed packets also say you can sow direct, but this is risky. Vermin can steal the seed, slugs just adore young courgette plants, and the vagaries of the weather mean it’s easy to lose such plants. I sow inside, but do this too early and you can end up with leggy seedlings like this, unless you are blessed with a greenhouse. (I have a greenhouse but it’s stuffed with plants and just now hosts pesky rats which are causing havoc. Tin foil to bounce back the light on a window ledge is passably good, but often it’s better to wait for a short time. The plants will catch up.
The seeds are oblong and flat, and are best sown on edge so water doesn’t gather on the flat surface and rot the seed, not that I think it likely, so long as you don’t over water the seed. They take about a week to come up on a warm window sill. I sow mine in peat pots, but these are vigorous plants, so shortly after germination I pop the pot into a larger pot of compost, and keep it well watered. The problem I have is that I end up without enough room.
Although with the 2 square yards garden you’ll only need one plant, it’s always wise to have a backup plant in case the first gets nobbled.