Short version:

A great summer squash to grow upwards if you don’t want to give up too much space for courgettes on the ground but have lots of vertical space.

In my constant hunt for ways to fit as many vegetables into my garden as possible I came across tromboncinos. A neighbour told me that the word means little trombone in Italian. I could see why it would be called that.

I’m giving this a separate page to pumpkins and other squashes as I like to think of courgettes as every day vegetables that everyone has eaten, if not cooked. I’ve seen it be one of the go tos for mums who want to squeeze as much vegetable as possible into their little ones – hidden in the pasta sauce, hidden in the cake (yes, I said cake – like carrot cake, but courgette cake instead), in the ratatouille, boiled, baked or roasted. Technically it is a fruit as it develops from the ovary and contains the seeds.

Just growing tromboncino is fun for it’s uniqueness, but there are also practical reasons:

  • The leaves of a courgette plant will radiate from its centre as does the fruit. It will take up around a metre or so squared and grow to maybe 60cm high. Tromboncinos take up the same footprint, but with long vines they can grow many more fruit than a ground-based courgette.
  • All squashes need good sun. Courgettes will need it at the ground level where the plant grows. Tromboncino’s rambling vines can be trained up behind other plants to reach more sun.
  • The tromboncino also grows much bigger fruit than the courgette. When courgettes get big, they become tasteless, watery marrows. The tromboncino can grow a couple of feet long and still retain its taste. If you leave a tromboncino ‘too’ long the skin will become hard and yellow and it will need peeling. If left long enough the flesh will become yellow and like a butternut squash.

It is in fact the same species as the butternut squash – Cucurbita moschata, and so the two squashes can pollinate each other. Courgettes, as well as pumpkins and a variety of summer squashes, like spaghetti squash, are of the species – Cucurbita pepo. Members of the pepo cannot pollinate the moschata. This is important because without pollination and fertilisation there will be no fruit.

Those in the Cucurbita family produce separate male and female flowers. This is where they get quite tricky. The plant will often not produce male and female flowers at the same time. You can read why in ‘Pollination, Fertilisation and Variety’. This means that to get a better chance of pollination you need more than one plant. You can, however, grow butternut squash with tromboncino as a pollination partner. You may also have to do some pollinating yourself.

How to grow

Sow March to May indoors in separate pots.

Plant out June. The plants will need fertile soil and lots of water. Try not to grow them in ground that has had squashes of some sorts in them the previous couple of years to help avoid diseases. They can be planted in pots, but they really do need very, very large pots (mine is currently in my largest pallet planter) if you’d like them to provide food. The vines can grow very long (one of mine is currently over 12 feet) and you may get some branching. They have little tendrils for attaching to support and these will curl around anything they can. Wooden trellises will provide a strong support, but the tendrils will not be able to curl around anything thicker than a bamboo cane. You will need to tie up the vines in most cases. Even with bamboo canes some intervention is often needed.  

If left to their own devices I have still generally gotten about 5 fruits per vine. There are generally about 3-4 times as many female flowers as that. If you want more fruit from your squashes then you can help by hand pollinating.

Alternatively, if you’re worried that the flowers aren’t pollinating successfully, you can also eat the flowers. Personally I find this a waste. I don’t really want to eat a flower with a small swelling when I could wait a month and have a huge squash that is enough to provide the vegetables for 3 family meals. What I do instead is wait to see if a fruit is developing well. If it looks unpollinated I will cut the small fruit to be eaten.  

I have found that they don’t tend to be too bothered by much in the way of diseases. The aphids don’t seem particularly interested. Because they’re off the ground and have quite prickly stems they tend to be left alone by slugs and snails. I have experienced powdery mildew with them. This is a problem I often face with brassicas too. I assume it’s because I try to pack too many things into my small garden so air doesn’t circulate as well around the leaves. Keep an eye out for it. I love wandering around the garden to see what’s growing so this isn’t a chore. As soon as I spot powdery mildew I remove all the leaves that are affected and then spray the rest of the plant with a solution containing half a teaspoon of bicarbonate soda, half a teaspoon of oil and a few drops of washing up liquid.     

Harvest July to September. They can be harvested as soon as you like. You can experiment to see how large you want to grow them before you eat them.

They can be cooked in any way a courgette is cooked. They don’t tend to be bitter like courgettes can be. I put it into pasta sauces or cook it with garlic, cumin and tomatoes. My favourite way, mostly because it’s easy and I’m lazy, is to just slice into little discs about 1cm thick and fry in a little oil. A pinch of salt and a tiny sprinkle of sugar is all it needs.

If anyone has had any experience with the ‘little trombones’ please do comment and let us know what you think, if you know of any diseases to watch out for or we’d love to hear if you have any great recipes. These definitely lead to giggly growing.

Before anyone says anything rude… this was my vegetable elephant with leafy ears. The poor elephant was roasted with garlic and a pinch of chicken stock, beetroot leaves and all!

7 thoughts on “Tromboncino

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