Summertime - but the courgettes ain't growing

Courgette glut to moan about? Not this year

Courgette glut to moan about? Not this year

HMM. While I wish that this week’s column might have been the now-traditional moan about the annual August courgette glut, the gloomy truth is that because of the sodden, dreary, dismal, rotten, cloudy, truly awful Irish summer weve been enduring, there is no such glut. Not yet anyway. This means no alarming anecdotes of once slender, tender courgettes that have metamorphosed in the twinkle of an eye into thumping great marrows, no tales of those same giant marrows being deposited stealthily and anonymously on neighbours doorsteps, and no well-meaning tips on how to deal with a surfeit that in other sunnier summers has seemed never-ending (even overwhelming).

Instead, too many gardeners have found themselves glumly inspecting their plants this summer to see if there are any courgettes at all.

Having said that, in the OPW’s walled Victorian kitchen garden in the Phoenix Park, gardeners Brian Quinn and Meeda Downey have fared better than most when it comes to their courgette harvest. For while it’s by no means a glut, at least the walled garden’s 25-odd courgette plants are productive, rather than sulking and shivering in the gloom of an Irish summer like some other plants I could mention.


“While the plants are finally producing a nice harvest now, this year’s courgettes have been really slow to come in. I’d say it’s somewhere between three to four weeks later than usual,” reckons Brian. “I remember that last year we were picking the fruit from early July but not this summer – the plants are really only getting going now. It’s all down to the cool, dull weather we’ve had.”

Brian and his fellow OPW gardener Meeda Downey are growing three different varieties of courgette – ‘Alexander’, ‘Taxi’ and ‘Bambino’, all sourced from Moles Seeds. “The first is typical of what many gardeners would see as the traditional courgette – a high-yielding, early variety with smooth, shiny, dark green fruits,” explains Brian. “The next, ‘Taxi’, is a very vigorous variety that produces bright yellow fruits while the last one. ‘Bambino’, is grown for its large harvest of baby courgettes. They’re all doing okay, although they’re also all showing signs of powdery mildew.”

A quick glance at the walled gardens plants confirms Brians diagnosis, with the variety ‘Alexander’ seemingly the worst affected by this fungal disease. Characterised by a powdery white coating on the leaves (these are the white fungal spores), powdery mildew is very common on courgette plants from August onwards, as it is on all members of the cucurbit family (this includes cucumbers, squash and pumpkins). Associated with water stress at the roots of the plant, poor air circulation, and cool nights followed by warm days, there is no real cure for the disease. But a moisture-retentive soil that’s been enriched with plenty of manure before planting will reduce the chances of it being a problem, as will regularly mulching to conserve moisture in the soil.

“Courgettes are thirsty, hungry plants, just like pumpkins and squash,” explains Brian. “At the same time, they hate growing in a cold, wet, waterlogged soil, so it’s about getting the balance right. But we’ve had powdery mildew on the courgettes every year, no matter what the weather is like. I think it’s almost inevitable that the plants get it by mid-August. We just pick off the worst affected leaves to slow it down.”

While Brian and Meeda concentrate on growing the more conventional varieties of courgettes, other gardeners might enjoy experimenting with some of the more unusual types, which come in different shapes and colours. Both ‘Summer Ball’ (Thompson Morgan, Suttons) and ‘One Ball’ (Suttons) produce yellow, round-fruiting courgettes while ‘Eight Ball’ produces similarly shaped, dark green fruit (Plants of Distinction). The fruit of the very decorative variety ‘Piccolo’ is also globe-shaped but smartly striped in shades of bottle and light green (Plants of Distinction) while the varieties ‘Pinstripe’, ‘Green Tiger’ (both from Plants of Distinction) and ‘Tiger Cross’ (Thompson Morgan, Suttons) are all striped but traditionally-shaped courgettes. There’s even a lemon-shaped, lemon-coloured variety called Sunsweet (Suttons) which, when the fruit is young and tender, can be eaten raw.

As for this year’s courgette crop, disappointed gardeners shouldn’t give up quite just yet as a warm early autumn could make all the difference. But if your courgettes remain tiny, then do as the Italian chef and cookery writer Antonio Carluccio ( ) suggests and harvest them while the flowers are still attached. He then stuffs the flowers with mascarpone and parmesan cheese, herbs, nuts and breadcrumbs before dipping the lot (the courgette and its attached, stuffed flower) in batter and frying them. Delicious.

* The Northern Ireland Heritage Gardens Committee (NIHGC) are running a Kitchen Gardens and Gardening conference from Friday 7th October to Sunday 9th October at The Londonderry Arms, Carnlough, County Antrim.. Guest speakers include Charles Nelson, Susan Campbell, Klaus Laitenberger, Jim Buckland, Michael Hennerty, Anya Gohlke and Barbara Pilcher. Cost of €200 includes coffee/tea. lunches, dinner and a visit to both Benvarden Walled Garden and Glenarm Walled Garden. Contact or log on to for more details.

* The OPW’s Victorian walled kitchen garden is in the grounds of the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre, beside the Phoenix Park Café and Ashtown Castle. The gardens are open daily from 10am to 4pm

Sow, Plant and Do Now

Sow outdoors in pots or modules, for later planting in the tunnel or greenhouse when summer crops are cleared, for late autumn/early winter crops:Cabbages 'Greyhound leafy non-hearting spring types, carrots ('Nantes' types, in long modules or pots), kales such as Cavalo Nero, dwarf green curled and Ragged Jack (Red Russian), lettuces (non-hearting leafy types, winter 'Gem' winter butterheads), endives, Swiss chards leaf beets, beetroot 'Bull's Blood' for salad leaves, peas (for pea shoots).

Outdoors, sow in modules, in a seedbed for transplanting, or in situwhere they are to crop, possibly to cover with cloches or frames in autumn: beetroot, brocoletto Cima di Rapa, early Nantes type carrots for late autumn cropping, cabbages (red ball head), Greyhound and leafy non-hearting spring types), peas (for pea shoots), radicchios, endives, Japanese overwintering onions, salad onions, Claytonia (winter purslane), lambs lettuce, American landcress, winter lettuces, kales, radishes, rocket, summer spinach, summer turnips. .

Do:Continue hand-weeding, hoeing, watering young module/container plants. Plant out well-established, module-raised plants, spray maincrop potatoes against blight, keep glasshouse/polytunnel well-ventilated, continue to feed tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, check that protective netting (Bionet) against carrot fly, cabbage root fly, cabbage white butterfly is firmly in place (inspect for eggs caterpillars also), check supports for tall plants (beans, peas, tomatoes .

Fionnuala Fallon is a garden designer and writer

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon is an Irish Times contributor specialising in gardening