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How to Grow Cucurbits

Cucurbits plants, which include pumpkins, zucchini and cucumbers, are great fun to grow. Trailing varieties look great scrambling up a fence or over an arch, making them easier to fit in a small garden.
Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening

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Step 1: Choose the Right Site and Soil

Plants in the pumpkin family come from hot climates and thrive on well-drained soil improved with organic matter. Once established, their growth is rapid and extensive, so leave them enough space. Cucumbers and zucchini do well in pots or growing bags.

Step 2: Sow and Plant Out

These tender plants cannot tolerate frost and will not germinate or grow in the cold. Sow seeds indoors, in biodegradable pots to prevent root disturbance, and plant seedlings out when the weather improves. Harden seedlings off before planting out, after the last frost. If nights are cool, cover with a cloche.

Step 3: Protect Against Potential Problems

Cucurbits require lots of watering. Outdoor and greenhouse cucumbers, and summer and winter squashes, often benefit from support: cane wigwams, fan trellises, and wires in the greenhouse are all effective. Cucurbits are pollinated by insects (except greenhouse cucumbers, which are all-female and do not need pollinating). Female flowers can be hand-pollinated if necessary. Powdery mildew may occur, and cucumber mosaic virus can cause deformed fruits; grow resistant varieties if possible. Red spider mites and whiteflies can be a problem on greenhouse crops.

Step 4: Harvest and Store

Leave pumpkins and squashes on the plant until they have a hard skin and cracked stem, and for longer, if possible, if they are to be stored. Cut with a long stem and cure in a warm room for several days, before storing somewhere cooler.

Harvest Pumpkins Before Frost and Allow to Cure

Courtesy of DK - Vegetable Gardening © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Step 5: Cultivate Properly

Male and Female Flowers (image 1)
Some cucurbits may need hand pollination: female flowers have mini-fruits behind them, while male flowers grow on a thin stem. Remove male cucumber flowers in the greenhouse to prevent pollination and deformed, bitter fruits.

Training Squashes (image 2)
Raise trailing squash plants off the ground to make them tidier and stop the fruit from rotting on damp soil and being eaten by slugs. Anchor canes in the ground at an angle, linking them together with strong twine and attaching them to a fence.

Step 6: Choose Crops

Zucchini (image 1)
Easy to grow and productive, zucchini usually has a bush, rather than trailing, habit, and suits small gardens.

Cucumber (image 2)
The smooth-skinned greenhouse types of cucumbers are more difficult to grow than outdoor ridge varieties.

Summer Squash (image 3)
Strangely shaped, soft-skinned squashes taste the same as zucchini and can be cooked in the same way.

Pumpkin (image 4)
A late summer bounty in the garden. Select varieties grown for flavor rather than size if they are for the kitchen.

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Excerpted from Simple Steps: Vegetable Gardening

© Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007

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