Cucurbitaceae -- Cucumbers, Melons, Squash
Though Planter has not tried growing yet, due to space and dry, sandy soil conditions, we would like to try in the future. Here are some tips for growing:
Consult the monthly archives in Garden Tips for generic information on growing or Garden Links for sources.
Cucurbits -- squash, cukes, melons -- and sunflowers germinate quickly, but cannot be hardened until well after the first frost. Sunflowers also resent too many transplants. Both are best seeded at the first of the month.
Seed succession lettuce every two weeks. Amaranth and Swiss chard can also be started indoors for an early summer crop, since they are more heat tolerant than other greens.
Optimal soil temperatures from 80 to 95 degrees; optimal air temperatures from 65 to 75 degrees, except watermelons, which need warmer temps. We don't grow these space-greedy crops yet, but may in the future.
Pinch back the fuzzy growing tips on vine crops to prevent them from taking over the garden and to direct the plant's energy into fruit production instead of leaf growth.
Cukes should be trellised in humid areas to avoid fungus. They can develop a bitter taste if not watered regularly. Since they ripen very quickly in warm, humid temperatures, pick them frequently and store till there's enough to pickle.
Most of the vitamin A of the cucumber is in the skin. Since you grow your own and don't need to worry about germs and handling, leave the skin on!
Squash, melons, and pumpkins should be kept off the ground. See Garden Tips for more.
Within 4-8 days of pollination, summer squash is ready to pick, so it too must be pickled or frozen. They will keep up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, or if stored at 45 degrees at 80 percent humidity. Harvest every day to keep plants producing.
Continue pinching back tips of vines.
When cantaloupes reach softball size, place them on an inverted coffee can to increase the air circulation and sunlight they receive. Puncture drainage holes on the can top to prevent fruit rot.
South of Planter's
Zone 4-5, cucumbers planted in midsummer will supply fresh cukes as your first planting
loses vigor in late summer. They will require about two months to produce a crop, and will
benefit from ample moisture, so irrigate well as the summer progresses.
According to the Virginia Tech Extension, summer squash that has reseeded itself should be avoided. It can contain a natural toxin, curcurbitacin E, that causes a bitter taste, which may result in food poisoning symptoms like stomach cramps.
Harvest winter squash and pumpkins by cutting with 2 or 3 inches of stem; they'll keep better in storage that way than if stemless.
* Volunteer pumpkin plants in our compost pile have produced about half a dozen large-sized pumpkins in the past. Most sources advise you to provide support for fruit if the vine is allowed to climb. One of our vines climbed a 1x2-inch fence and produced one pumpkin (below) that has no support. The stems are about 2" thick.
* Winter-type pumpkins and squash, such as acorn, butternut, and spaghetti, can be stored for several months in a cool, medium-dry basement, garage, or tool shed. Allow the fruit to ripen fully on the vine, and cure in the sun to form a hard rind. Harvest before frost, and leave a piece of stem on each when they are cut from the vine. If the floor is damp, place them on shelves to reduce the possibility of rot. The best storage temperature is about 60 degrees F. (Va Tech Extension)
* For highest quality, plan to pickle vegetables within 24 hours after they are picked. If the produce cannot be used immediately, refrigerate it, or temporarily store it in a cool, well-ventilated place. This is particularly important for cucumbers because they deteriorate rapidly, especially at room temperature. (Va Tech Extension)
Cure pumpkins, butternut, and Hubbard squash at temperatures around 70° for about two weeks immediately after harvest.
Storing squash and pumpkins. See November archive for our experiences.