Growing Courgettes & Courgette Flower Egg Menemen

Courgette flowers were a key reason for my fierce desire to plant a kitchen garden. They were always so unavailable and expensive, when I found them they would never last very long. Many times I would trundle home from the farmers market with a tiny expensive clutch of them, only to discover them wilted and sad the next day when I went to cook with them.  I love them when I go to Rome, stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, battered and deep fried, or gracing a pizza with some curd. I say gracing, it was more like a noisy comfortable party, you know the ones. I have seen many Mexican recipes including them, you can buy them in a tin there. In a culture where everyone cooks you can sell courgette flowers, people just go home and cook with them that day. No drama! But in a culture where we buy everything at the weekend and leave it in the fridge, well courgette flowers are a sad addition. I wanted to grow them myself in the hope that my garden would become my courgette flower larder.  I planted lots of courgette seedlings. I started them in my propagator, planting a selection of different types including some lovely Italian heirloom varieties from Franchi seeds (available at Wyevale Garden Centres). I planted them outside in containers in organic and peat free compost and learned very quickly that there was a lot of slugs in my garden, and that they loved my courgette seedlings as much as I did. They were devoured and I despaired and I researched how I could effectively battle those slippery little gits. I succeeded.  I planted more courgette plants than any reasonable person needs but I wanted the flowers and I wanted as many as I could day to day. I wanted to – maybe! – handle recipes that called for courgette flowers by half the kilo. My tiny London garden became populated by courgette plants, and they made me so happy, every day. Every morning I wander out there and I see how many are there to joyfully great me. Petals open wide, bright yellow, waiting for the bees, and I give them their time. Then a few hours later, when they are just starting to close, I go and pick them.  The wonderful thing about growing courgette flowers is what once was a luxury becomes abundant, and I became more creative with my courgette flower recipes. They are a terrific vegetable in their own right. Read on for some cooking ideas below, and a recipe. Tips for growing courgettes Courgettes are very easy to grow, and a joy in the garden. There are a few things that you need to watch out for, but it is all very easy once you know what those things are.   – start early and speed things up by starting your seedlings in a propagator. From the third week of April is ideal (assuming the last frost has passed). You can plant until June. If you plant indoors, acclimatise your seedlings before you put them out by putting them outside during the day and bringing them back in at night.   – courgette plants love sun so plant them in the sunniest part of your garden.   – slugs are a major problem for your seedlings, especially after rain. Invest in some slug wool (available at Wyevale Garden Centres), this irritates them and keeps them clear of your seedlings, as long as they have no other way of accessing them (look out for long grass which they can climb and other weeds which can provide an access route to your precious plants).   – I planted mine in containers, you can use growbags too (which I used with great success for my tomatoes). Ensure the containers are at least 18 inches wide and fill them with enough compost. I used some tomato planters, which were the perfect size for my courgette plants. I planted too many per bag, lesson learned and next year I will do one per container and look forward to more courgettes from each plant.   – don’t harvest all your flowers, you need them for pollination. Flowers are open and joyful in the morning and close as the day goes on, never to open again. So if you want to stuff them, pick them early and keep them refrigerated. I treat myself to the joyful open morning ones occasionally and as the season goes on I have many, and I can pick lots. Ideally, I like to leave some for the bees, and pick them around noon if I can. Sometimes when using them in recipes like below I leave them on the plant all day and allow them to gently curl up.   – be careful how you water your courgettes. They need lots of water but only on the roots and not the leaves. You can manage this by cutting the bottom off water bottles and placing them in your courgette plant container, bottom side up. Water the courgette plant by filling the upturned water bottle which will ensure that the roots are watered and will keep the leaves and plant generally dry.  – Courgette plants suffer from mildew (and mine have done this season). You can prevent this by ensuring that the plants aren’t crowded, watering them correctly and placing them in a sunny position. Treat it by cutting off the most affected leaves and placing them in the compost heap or burning them. Use potassium carbonate spray as an organic fungicide should it hit. You can make this at home by mixing 1 tbsp horticultural oil with 4 tsp bicarbonate of soda and 1 gallon of water. Test on the plant first and use sparingly. Horticultural oil? You can make that too! It is essentially oil mixed with pure soap (1 tbsp pure liquid soap with 250ml vegetable oil).     – once your courgette plants start producing, feed them every 10 days or so.  I used Gro-Sure tomato food with seaweed extract (again, available … Continue reading Growing Courgettes & Courgette Flower Egg Menemen