How to harvest courgettes: picking, storing & preserving

Regina
Regina
Regina
Regina

I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

Courgettes are versatile vegetables that are great for preserving if you know how. Here is our guide on how to harvest courgettes and how to store them.

Ripe courgettes on plant
If too many courgettes ripen at once, you need to know how to store them [Photo: Leptospira/ Shutterstock.com]

Courgettes (Cucurbita pepo subsp. pepo convar. giromontiina) are a must-have in every kitchen garden. With just a few plants, you will have a rich harvest of tasty veg all summer long. When planting, nutrient rich soils or potting compost helps promote the flowering of the cucurbits (Cucurbitaceae). As you continue to care for your courgette plants, many young fruits are soon ready to harvest. Though they can be harvested from summer to right through to autumn, midsummer is when courgettes produce in abundance. With the right storage or preserving, they can be enjoyed well past the growing season. Here are our tips on how to harvest, store and preserve courgettes properly.

Harvesting courgettes

Courgettes can be harvested early in the summer, from June onwards. But how can you tell when to harvest courgettes? Here are tips on the right time to pick courgettes and how to best go about it.

When to harvest courgettes

Courgettes can be harvested for the first time about 6 to 8 weeks after planting, and the plants will continue to produce new fruits throughout the summer. The harvest time for courgettes begins in June until the first autumn frosts. They are harvested as young, technically unripe fruits because they are tender and do not yet have visible seeds. Whether round, white or yellow courgettes, they are ready for picking just a few days after the plants have flowered. Depending on the variety, they grow between 15 and 25 cm long and 200 to 400 g in weight.

Regular harvesting encourages further flowering and, with that, further fruiting. Over the course of the summer you can harvest about 20 fruits or 4 to 6 kg of courgettes per plant. The younger the courgettes are, the more tender, crunchy and aromatic they taste. The best time of day to harvest the tender vegetables is in the early morning hours before the summer heat sets in. This is when the water content is highest and the fruits are at their juiciest.

Courgette fruits and flowers
Courgettes should be harvested when they are young and tasting their best [Photo: vaivirga/ Shutterstock.com]

What is the right way to harvest?

Cut the courgette when it reaches a length of 15 to 20 cm with a sharp knife at the stem. As mentioned above, harvesting young fruits encourages flower production. But older and larger courgettes have the advantage that they can be stored longer.

Important note on poisonous courgettes: Bitter courgettes should not be eaten under any circumstances! The bitter taste is due to the substance cucurbitacin, which is poisonous and can cause severe gastrointestinal upset. Find out more about this in our article on poisonous courgettes.

How to harvest courgette blooms

As well as the fruits, courgette flowers are a real treat. Male courgette flowers are recognisable by their long flower stalks and lack of an ovary – they are best for eating. Ideally, cut off the blossoms just before they open up. They can then be stuffed and baked or roasted. Be sure to use the courgette flowers on the same day they are picked, as they wilt quickly and are past their best by the next day.

Fresh harvested courgette flowers
Courgette flowers can be fried, stuffed or baked, but they only keep for a short time [Photo: photocrew1/ Shutterstock.com]

Storing courgettes

Courgettes are tender vegetables that can only be stored for a limited time. Here are some tips on the ideal storage conditions for summer squash.

How long do courgettes keep?

The shelf life of courgettes depends on the age of the fruit, and the temperature and humidity at which they are stored. Young courgette fruits cannot be stored for long, as they lose water quickly through their thin skin. These cold-sensitive vegetables can be stored for a maximum of one week at 10 °C and a high humidity of between 90 and 95%. Older, larger courgettes, on the other hand, have a thicker skin so they can be stored well for up to two weeks at the same temperature. Courgettes that have already been cut open should be eaten within a few days, as they also dry out and microorganisms can quickly spoil them.

Storing courgettes in the fridge

Courgettes are extremely sensitive to cold so they should not be stored in the fridge. They quickly suffer cold damage, will lose most of their flavour, and become limp or often even mushy by the time you take them back out.

Chopped up frozen courgettes in freezer
Instead of storing courgettes in the fridge, it is better to freeze them [Photo: Ahanov Michael/ Shutterstock.com]

Preserving courgettes

If you want to enjoy the glut of courgettes in winter, freezing or preserving them is a good long-term solution. Here are three different ways to preserve courgettes.

Freezing courgettes

Freezing is a good way to store either raw or cooked courgettes for months. For a fresh courgette, proceed as follows:

  1. Cut the courgettes into medium-sized pieces.
  2. Add a little salt to remove most of the water from the fruit.
  3. After a few minutes, drain the water off and place the courgettes in a tin or freezer bag.
  4. Courgettes will keep for several months in the freezer.

Tip: Cooked courgettes can be placed straight in the freezer. Ready-made courgette dishes such as a ratatouille can also keep in the freezer for about six months.

Pickling courgettes

Pickling is a good way to preserve large quantities of courgettes for the winter. Courgettes can be pickled in brine, vinegar or oil.

To make pickled courgettes, you will need onions, water, vinegar, salt, sugar and mustard seeds. Proceed as follows:

  1. Chop the courgettes and onions.
  2. Add to a pot with the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil for a few minutes.
  3. There are no limits to the combination of ingredients. However, when boiling, do not heat the courgettes for too long, as they quickly become mushy.
  4. To fill the jars, remove courgette and onion pieces from the boiling broth and layer them alternately.
  5. Fill the preserving jar with the hot seasoning mixture and close it tightly.
  6. Store the jars in a cool and dark place, such as a cellar. After about three months, the jar will be fully infused and ready to enjoy.
Courgette pickling jars
Pickled courgettes keep for a very long time and can be used in many ways [Photo: Bubushonok/ Shutterstock.com]

Preserving and canning

If you like to be prepared for the long term, try canning courgettes. Canning is a process of preserving vegetables or fruit by heating them in a closed jar at a high temperature. This treatment allows the contents to be stored for a long time. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash the courgettes and cut into cubes.
  2. Mix the cubes with onions, garlic, mustard seeds, salt, sugar and vinegar and leave to infuse overnight.
  3. The next day, clean canning jars thoroughly and boil them with hot water for a few minutes to sterilise.
  4. Pour the mixture into the preserving jars and seal tightly.
  5. Boil the preserving jars at 80 °C for 20 minutes. As an alternative to using a canning machine, the jars can be heated in a water bath in the oven.

By canning, courgettes can easily be stored for several months to years.

Tip: An unusual but delicious way to preserve courgettes is by making jam. Mix the courgettes with the same amount of apples, chop both and add preserving sugar, lemon juice, star anise and cinnamon. Let the mixture infuse overnight and then the next day boil and pour the mixture into sterile jars.

The variety of different shapes and colours of summer squash is immense. Here is an overview of our favourite courgette varieties: from bright yellow to white and striped as well as round and climbing courgettes.

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