How to plant cucurbits, sweetcorn and kumara and harvest potatoes and garlic
Planting cucumbers, gherkins, rock melons, watermelons and pumpkins
- The secret to success when planting cucurbits is having really rich soil. We’re planting our pumpkins in a separate bed because they grow at such a rapid rate and will smother other plants. Into a second bed we’re planting Lebanese cucumbers, gherkins, rock melons and Sugar Baby watermelons (which are a small variety that fits into your fridge and you can eat in one sitting).
- We’ve prepared our beds with compost, chicken manure and rock dust. In the cucumber and melon bed we’re going to use recycled cardboard as a mulch to keep the leaves off the ground and help keep the soil moist and at an even temperature. The cardboard will break down in a couple of months and puts carbon back into the soil. We need to water the soil first, then place a few bricks on the cardboard to keep it from moving while planting. We’ll use weed mat pins to hold it down in the long term.
- Cut a ‘X’ in the cardboard and fold under the four corners to create a square for each plant. We plant the melons up one end and the cucumbers down the other, leaving a space in the middle so the plants don’t intertwine too much. We leave a space at the end of the bed too so the paths don’t get overgrown.
- Give your plants a good water before you take them out of their pot to plant. And cucurbits have a delicate root system so take care not to disturb the roots when planting.
- Watermelons originated in the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa and they’ve adapted so that their roots will go down 2 metres looking for water. So the secret is, once the plants get growing, stop watering them. If you continue to water them, you’ll destroy the flowers so they can’t set, so they’re best left alone during the growing period.
- We plant Kabocha pumpkins which are similar to buttercup pumpkins. We space them about 80 cms apart in the centre of the bed so they have plenty of room on either side to spread. We hope to reap around 5-6 pumpkins from each plant. Like the melons, we’ll water these plants for a couple of weeks until they get established, then we leave them to take care of themselves.
- To regulate moisture and soil temperature, we lay mulch round the pumpkin plants. Mulch also keeps the bacteria and fungi in the soil alive and encourages the earthworms up to the surface, thus aerating the soil. We’re using oat straw, but pea or lucerne straw is just as good. Leave it chunky and water it in. It’ll soon break down.
- People often don’t grow sweetcorn because they say it doesn’t produce enough cobs and the kernels don’t grow evenly. But grown well, it’s a rewarding crop.
- Sweetcorn needs a huge amount of animal manure in the soil. Under-feeding produces short stalks and few cobs. We expect our 18 plants to grow to 2 metres and have at least 3 cobs on each plant.
- If you buy seedlings and there happens to be 2 plants growing together, simply cut the weakest plant off at ground level. Don’t try and separate the plants.
- Plant corn in a block, not in straight rows. They’re wind-pollinated so they need to be bunched together. The pollen from the male tassles at the top of the plant is shaken by the wind and this falls onto the female parts below and pollinates them. This results in a full cob of kernels. Water it all in well.
- It’s time to plant our chitted kumara. Gently and carefully pull the seedlings (or slips) off the mother tuber, ensuring they come off with roots intact. Within another couple of weeks, our tubers will have produced more slips for planting, if we want them.
- We’re planting the kumara where our fennel used to be, so we’ve added compost and chicken manure to this part-bed.
- They can be planted about 30 cms apart. Add a few handfuls of rock dust around the plants and water in well, especially as they were bare-rooted.
Bandicooting early potatoes
- Last week we checked our potatoes and found they were sizing up well. The plants are flowering nicely, but the plants haven’t died down yet. When this happens you need to harvest your whole crop. In the meantime we can bandicoot a few for dinner tonight!
- Our garlic bulbs are a good size now and the tops are drying off, so it’s time to harvest them.
- Pull out the plants and leave them to dry on the ground for 3 days. If there’s any chance of a shower or rain, take the plants inside to a carport or similar, somewhere that’s dry and airy.
- After 3 days, hang the garlic in bunches from their stalks so all the energy goes back into the root. In about 6 weeks’ time, when they’ve fully dried out, we’ll top and tail them and be able to store them for 6 months.
Camera: Davian Lorson
Editor: Tom Asche