Cucurbits

The cucurbit family consists of pumpkins,cucumbers, melons, squash and zucchini.

All need a soil temperature of 20 degrees Celsius or more to germinate successfully.

They have a tap root that is sensitive to transplanting, so if you need to grow them indoors to get them germinated ,

you need to sow the seed in individual 15cm pots and transplant without disturbing the root system much.

Once outside they need reasonably warm weather as damp and cool conditions makes them susceptible to powdery mildew,

a fungal disease which infects the leaves and rapidly leads to the death of the plant.

I usually start my cucurbits in a glass frame in mid October and transplant them outside in mid november.

By this stage the weather is usually consistently warm enough for them not to have a setback or to be attacked by powdery mildew.

Prepare the soil by digging thoroughly and dress with 250gms of COF per square metre.

I generally plant my pumpkins on a hill slope that has been mulched with a coarse straw.

This enables the vines to spread as much as they wish and to draw enough nutrient from wide spacings as they wish.

Give each plant at least 3 square meters of room to grow.

You will find that even this area by the end of summer will be fully occupied.

Water the plants well and regularly feed with comfrey tea or a similar foliar feed.

Cucurbits are heavy feeders, so every week sprinkle a band of COF around the outside of the vines so that the plants are kept growing to their optimum.

The female flowers have a bulbous ovary at the base of the flower which eventually becomes the fertilised pumpkin.

Watch out for these ( the male flowers are always first and heavily outnumber the female flowers) and when they appear,

pick a male flower that has newly opened and rub the male stamen containing the pollen onto the anthers of the female flower.

Pumpkin

I grow 2 varieties which are good keepers and last us until November-December each year.

Queensland Blue( Cucurbita maxima) is a large variety with a gey-blue outside skin and rich orange flesh.

It keeps very well as long as the stalk has dried off well and the fruit is fully mature before the first frosts.

There is an old wife's tale that frost is good prior to storing pumpkins.

 

I don't believe this and harvest my pumpkins before the first predicted frost of late Autumn.

They do like to stay out in the field until the stem is brown and withered and powdery mildew has killed off all the leaves, but don't chance subjecting them to heavy frosts.

Cut the pumpkin off where it joins the vine and store in an airy dry place.

Do not allow the stored pumpkins to touch each other, because the mould that eventually causes them to decay will spread rapidly to the others.

Keep an eye on the development of this mould by checking the fruit where the stalk enters the pumpkin and at the base where the flower died back.

If you see mould starting to develop, you will need to use the pumpkin before this mould becomes well established.

Butternut pumpkins ( Cucurbita moschata) are smaller pumpkins with fewer seeds. They are sweeter than the Queensland Blue, but will not keep as long.

Frosts definitely cause blemishing of the skin which leads to rapid deterioration.

This variety loves the warmth and will not grow well in a cooler summer.

They need about 135 warm sunny days to mature fully.

This really pushes a Tasmanian summer to be at its best to get these mature by the end of March.

 

Queensland Blue will not cross with Butternut, so you can save your Queensland Blue seed each year and know that it will be true to type.

Unfortunately, Butternut pumpkins will cross pollinate with Queensland Blue pumpkins and also squash and zucchini, so saving seed of Butternut pumpkin is a waste of time.

Zucchini

Zucchini is a fast growing and heavy producing vegetable.

Once the warm weather comes around Christmas you will harvest a zucchini a day from 2-3 plants.

Don't let them grow much bigger than the ones in the photo or you won't know what to do with them.

Zucchini grilled with a slice of cheese melted over are sensational.

Stuffed with tomato and onion they are yummy also. There are many ways you can cook these plants. They are especially great for Barbecues.

In growing zucchini, bear in mind that they need consistent water and heavy feeding to do their best.

Place zucchini seedlings 150cmx180cm apart or plant the seedlings above a band of COF that has been worked into the ground prior to planting.

COF takes about 10 days to release and by this time your seedlings will have overcome their transplanting shock and will be ready for maximum nutrient and growth.

These plants often get powdery mildew on their leaves so as you harvest the fruit, break off the leaves that have become infected.

They will keep on growing and producing until the end of March in a good year.

If you miss a fruit, it will grow to a huge size and slow down the production of other fruit, so make sure you check thoroughly every day once the plants start producing.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers must have warmer soil to germinate well and they dislike the cooler damp days that we sometimes get in November and December.

Transplanting them in a cloche until they settle in well is a good idea.

The Tasmanian summer gives us but 2 months of consistently warm enough weather for cucumbers, but fortunately there are varieties that produce fruit quickly and in a reasonable year they can produce well.

I grow 2 varieties in The Tamar Valley- Crystal Apple and a Burpless variety.

Sowing your seed in individual pots and keeping them in a cloche or glass frame is a good idea.

When transplanting them be careful not to disturb the roots too much so they are not set back unduly.

Powdery mildew is about the only disease that will cause trouble.

You can spray with an organic product called Ecocarb to control this, but unless the summer is warm you are going to have persistent trouble from this disease.

Ecocarb is potassium bicarbonate based.

It works on the principle of raising the pH of the plant leaf so that the spores of the powdery mildew cannot survive.

Squash

Summer squash needs a warm summer to do well in a cool climate.

If it is sown too early the seedlings will most likely suffer from powdery mildew and not really ever recover to vigorous growth.

It is best to plant seeds in individual pots under a glass frame and thin out to one strong seedling on germination.

Feed the plant consistently, sprinkling the COF in a ring around the outside leaves of the growing plant.

The feeding leaves of the roots will be at this point.

The squash is best harvested when small, as these fruit have tender skins and a more delicate flavour.

Fruit of about 4-5 cm across is about the right size to harvest. Water consistently and when the bush has stopped its prolific growth by the end of February, you can stop the fertiliser.

Remember to get the best nutrition into your vegetables you must use a balanced fertiliser such as COF

 

Cantaloupe

Like other cucurbits, cantaloupe must have a warm summer to do well.

The best chance to get ripe cantaloupes in Tasmania is to use a variety known as Minnesota Midget.

This variety is early to flower and produces ripe fruit consistently in most summers.

Any other cultivar will vary greatly depending on the warmth of the season.

 

Cantaloupes do not ripen after harvest so it is important that you wait until the fruit is ripened properly before you pick it.

When ripe, cantaloupes detach from the vine very easily.

Just push gently with your thumb where the stem attaches to the fruit.

If the fruit comes away with that gentle pressure, you have a ripe melon.

If not, wait another day or two and try again.

The fruit you see in supermarkets does look ripe but despite this look it will not have ripened any further after picking.

It will get softer but definitely not richer in fruit sugars.

The ripe fruit you can grow yourself is definitely of a superior quality.

Melons

Of all the cucurbits, melons are the most difficult to grow and ripen in a cool climate.

If you want to have a go, I would suggest that you lay a black plastic sheet across your well fertilised bed and cut slits where you wish to transplant your seedlings.

The Honeydew melon is the best adapted to cool climate conditions, but even these will benefit from a cloche or a plastic covered bed to keep the soil warm.

I would not bother planting watermelons in Tasmania.

In an exceptional season you may be able to ripen some but I usually do not afford the space for them.

The supermarket bought melons will just have to do.

 

This page was last updated on 14/12/2012