What on earth are Cucurbits?Posted By: rocket veg Category: Growing Veg, Seasonal Tips
The cucurbit family includes cucumbers, courgettes, squash, pumpkins and melons. They are plants which like to straggle and sprawl across the ground, some species preferring to be trained up a supportive framework of trellis or poles. The seeds are large and easy to handle when it comes to sowing – during May in open ground, when the risk of frost has passed; or now, if you have a heated propagator and want to tend your young plants with care until the weather warms and it is time to plant them out.
Like most vegetables, home-grown cucumbers taste wonderful compared to their shop-bought cousins. Depending on the variety, cucumbers can be grown both in the open, or in a pot or grow bag in a greenhouse or polytunnel. I used to grow the wonderfully-named ‘Tasty Green Burpless’ – an excellent variety for planting outside. I now grow ‘Mini Munch’ in my greenhouse, two plants in a large plastic box full of rich compost, the stems trained up and along canes and tied in place with raffia. When ready to pick, each ‘fruit’ provides the perfect amount for a salad.
Courgettes are so easy to grow if given space and good, rich compost. Once the plant is established, be warned: you are likely to get a couple of courgettes each week which will need picking while young and small or they will do their best to turn into marrows! If you really want to grow courgettes but lack space, you can always plant them in a large pot or grow bag. ‘Jenner’ produces bright yellow fruits; ‘Tricolour’, a selection of shiny, round courgettes in a range of greens and yellows.
Squash and Pumpkins
Apart from their culinary uses, the attraction of squash is that they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes – small, delightfully-shaped plants to huge round pumpkins. Like their fellow cucurbits, if provided with space, rich soil and warmth squash plants will reward you with a crop of wonderful fruit, for summer eating or storing for use over the winter depending on variety. I’ve tried a number of varieties over the years. For great shape and colour, try ‘Turk’s Turban’ or ‘Patty Pan’. ‘Winter Golden Hubbard’ (what a name!) is great when cut into chunks and roasted with plenty of butter and sage. Or grow ‘Jack Be Little’, each bright orange fruit a perfect feast for one when filled with chunks feta cheese and butter with a hint of garlic before roasting. If you fancy growing a classic large pumpkin ready for Halloween, now’s the time to sow ‘Hundredweight’ or ‘Jack O’Lantern’.
Perhaps the trickiest member of the cucurbit family to grow successfully in the UK, melons need warmth to do well, meaning a greenhouse or similar. Cantaloupe varieties seem to do best, so if you are determined to grow your own sweet, orange-fleshed beauties try ‘Ogen’ or ‘Sweetheart’.
Planting out and caring for your cucurbits
More on this in a few weeks when the sun shines and night time temperatures rise…