18 Jul 2011

The Zucchini Chop

This is my first year of growing courgettes so I was thrilled to see the plants flourishing in the few short weeks after planting out, although the way their magnificent but prickly leaves overspill onto the paths through the patch is slightly daunting.

Veg Patch view, July 2011

As I watered around the veg patch on Friday evening, my Zimbabwean neighbour (who has a wealth of experience in veg growing) came over for a chat.  The common names of plants often differ between our countries and he was curious about the courgettes.  Having established what the plant was, he told me that in his country the whole plant would be eaten: flowers, stems, leaves, fruit.  Surely the leaves are too spiny for that?  Not at all, apparently they soften in cooking.  My plants, however, had been insufficiently watered (guilty as charged, although the weekend deluge will have rectified that) and the stems were too tough.  He demonstrated by cutting a lower leaf close to the stem and peeling back the strings.  The stalk was hollow and the flesh rigid; if it had been tender, he would have saved it from the compost heap and taken it home to be eaten, although the best leaves are further up the stem.  So, lesson one:  courgettes need lots of water.

There was further advice. "The plant is having to share the food between the fruit and the leaves. You do not need the leaves near the ground."  Well, that made sense to me.  So, knife in hand, I sliced where I was directed to and leaf after giant leaf came away.  Soil was revealed (enough to sow some quick radishes or shaded spinach), air could circulate around the plants, sweetcorn was rediscovered and an achievement shared.  Really, an enjoyable, companionable, useful and educational evening where another curve of the learning spiral was successfully negotiated.

This is the 'after' shot:

Courgette, pruned

If I'd thought about it, I should have used the same angle to take the photo. Sorry, but I hope this will illustrate nicely the after-effects of the (rather drastic) chop. Does anyone else do this? And has it worked for you? I'd love to know!


  1. Your courgettes look to be growing well. I've never removed any leaves from my plants. It's amazing what information you can pick up from other gardeners, especially those from other countries where things are often done differently. As for the spiny leaves, just think about nettles, they can be eaten too.

  2. Useful info there, all new to me. When it's safe to open polytunnel again, we have had 2 days of high winds, I will do some pruning on my courgette plant.

  3. Well, you learn something every day, I may give it a go myself, although i rather like the lushness of the leaves, and they do keep the weeds down.

  4. I've not heard this recommended before - but I can see it would aid air circulation and would also allow me to get past the blimmin' things to access the peas!

  5. Jo, I think in other countries, such as Zimbabwe, they value what's around them much more than we do in our commercialised and throwaway culture, therefore very little is wasted.

    Bridget, I hope you're able to get back into your polytunnel soon. Do you hand pollinate courgettes in the tunnel? It would be interesting to chop back half and leave the others for a comparison...

    Elaine, I must admit you have a point; there were no weeds under the leaves (very little sweetcorn either!, although I'm now transplanting that)

    SVG, I hadn't heard, seen or read of this either but I'll try anything once - if it doesn't work, I won't do it next year!

    Thanks for commenting everyone, it's always nice to read your views! Caro xx

  6. Waste not, want not. How lucky to have advice from people who know. Sounds like good advice & no need to water now with all this rain

  7. Hi Laura (Patio Patch), Sometimes the advice works and sometimes not; it depends whether what works in Africa also works in the British climate! We share our experiences so it's very companionable and just how community gardening should be!

  8. Hi Caro, courgettes are such monster plants, aren't they - I grew them in pots on the patio last year, big mistake, they took over! Great tips on using the leaves and removing the lower ones, would make spotting the fruit before they grow too large easier too. Will give it a go next time I am up at my plot. Gardeners who share tips are wonderful neighbours.

  9. This post title sounds like a novel!
    None of mine appeared but no worries as I know that I'll be given plenty! Flighty xx

  10. Janet, I have to confess that this is the first time I've successfully grown courgettes and I didn't quite believe they would get this big! Mine are absolute brutes, scratchy and unforgiving but so delicious! A week on from the chop and I'm finding a big difference - the plants are fruiting like mad and the bees can easily access the flowers (although that could be down to the amount of rain we've had).

  11. I hadn't thought of that, Flighty, but you're right, the title is quite dramatic! And yes, there's always plenty of courgettes to share around with neighbouring gardeners. x

  12. Interesting to hear that stems and leaves are both edible. My mum is Italian and my dad was the first to grow zucchinis at his allotment site. His fellow plot holders were most suspicious of them. We used to enjoy the flowers dipped in batter and lightly fried. I have removed the lower leaves when they have become tatty with no harm to the plant.

  13. Thank you for this comment Anna. It's reassured me that this drastic action will do no harm to my courgettes. I've also tried fried zucchini flowers - stuffed by a friend who runs an Italian deli. I grew the courgettes so that he could have the flowers to experiment with!


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