- Cucurbits are the family that includes pumpkins (also known as squash), zucchinis, cucumbers and melons.
- Cucurbits thrive in warm conditions and in early summer you can start planting them out.
- Choose an open space with good air movement which gets all day sun.
- Add compost to soil before planting to increase nutritive value and improve structure. Then dig a hole, add an animal manure (chicken poo or sheep pellets), fork or spade it through, then pop the plant in and cover over.
- Give each plant a handful of Natures Organic Fertiliser and add more animal manure around the plants. Cucurbits are gross feeders.
- Rob has planted Kabocha which is a Japanese squash with an exceptionally sweet flavour, rather like a cross between a sweet potato and squash. They don’t keep long though which is why he plants butternuts in another bed. Butternuts keep well all winter long.
- Plant squash 50-70 cms apart. Squash trail extensively, so we recommend popping a bamboo stick in around the centre of the plant, so once they start to trail you’ll be able to find the roots when watering.
- If you’re confused between pumpkin and squash, generally speaking ‘pumpkin’ is the culinary term and ‘squash’ is the botanical term for exactly the same vegetable.
- There are a huge number of zucchini varieties ranging from dark green through to striped and yellow as well as scallopini (zucchini shaped like a flying saucer).
- Zucchini can be parthenocarpic – female flowers only, or open-pollinated – male and female flowers.
- If you want to stuff the flowers of zucchini when cooking, the open-pollinated varieties like Cocozelle are best.
- Rob plants zucchini Parthenon which is parthenocarpic. This is because, at this time of the year, there may not be enough bees around to pollinate plants, so it’s safer to plant self-fertile varieties. In a month or so, when the temperatures are more stable, he’ll plant the open-pollinated varieties.
- Plant zucchini about a metre apart, near the edge of a bed. One plant will feed 4 people. You can always plant another one about 6 weeks later to ensure a longer harvest.
- Cucumbers grow similarly to zucchini and pumpkins, but are more dependent on a constant supply of water. In time we’ll mulch this bed to create even moisture content in the soil, but we’re leaving it until the soil warms up more. If cucumbers get stressed with lack of water and nutrients, they will be bitter. If your fruit is bitter, just cut off the first 5cms from the stalk as that’s where most of the bitterness is stored.
- Rob plants three varieties of cucumber – Apple (has lovely flavour), Telegraph (only grows straight if you grow it on a trellis) and Lebanese (the easiest to grow). Plant about 80-90 cms apart.
- Pick Lebanese cucumbers almost every day. If you let them grow too big, the plant thinks it’s time to reproduce and it sets seed and stops producing.
- Put sticks near cucumber plants as for squash. We don’t bother putting sticks near the zucchinis because they grow more bush-like and it’s easier to see the centre of the plant.
- Cucurbits are very easy to grow as long as you feed and water them well.
- Powdery mildew is a problem in humid climates. If your plants do succumb to powdery mildew OR as a preventative measure here are three ways to treat the disease (use a watering can to apply):
– Dilute milk 10 parts to 1
– Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda to every 1 litre of water
– Dilute Flowers of Sulphur in water (as per instructions on the packet)
- A dose of liquid seaweed also helps prevent powdery mildew as it alkalises the leaves of the plants.
- Be vigilant for yellow and black ladybirds as they help spread powdery mildew.
Camera: Jarod Murray
Editor: Thomas Asche
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