At Oderings, we love speaking about flowers, but we try and never use flowery speech. This is because often the plants are known by a common name rather than their Latin/botanical name. So, when it comes to the family Cucurbitaceae, we call them cucurbits and to be honest we still get a few blank looks as who knows what a cucurbit is?
So, what are cucurbits?
Cucurbits are what we know as cucumbers & gherkins, pumpkins & squash, watermelons & rock melons, and zucchini/courgettes/marrow and more. Although thought of as a vegetable, the cucurbits are fruit because they are developed from a flower and contain seeds.
Cucurbits need a frost and wind free site to thrive. Generally, they shouldn’t be planted outside until after Labour Weekend, and later in the South Island. When planting, they need to be in a sunny spot with at least six hours of sun with well-draining soil. Incorporate plenty of compost and organic matter at planting, and the cucurbits will do the rest.
Unless you are getting a small growing (1m wide) variety, pumpkins need a good 3-4m space between plants. For harvesting don’t harvest until the pumpkin is fully hard and the skin has reached its full colour. Pumpkins can be harvested for 30-90 days and some are better for storing than others. Squash generally grow around the 1.5-2m mark.
What many gardeners don’t realise is that the zucchini/courgettes/marrow are all the same plant but depending on how long you leave them to mature is what they are classed as. A zucchini/courgettes is picked early and a marrow is the same fruit which has been left to mature longer.
Each plant needs space of 80cm to 1m. The leaves at the end of a season will often get mildew, don’t worry this wont effect the fruit. A courgette can turn into a marrow within a matter of days so once your plant starts producing it’s a good idea to check them 3-4 times a week. The more you pick, the more you will get. Because the plants produce so much they need a bit of water, incorporating mulch is ideal. Did you know courgettes have a male and female flower? If you find you aren’t getting any crops you may need to get a paint brush to cross pollinate the flowers, but hopefully you have a bee friendly garden and you don’t have any issues.
Now to grow these it needs to be warm which is hard in most NZ climates. If you give it a go then it’s a good idea to plan close to a North facing wall as this will help with warmth. I also cover the root zone in a black polythene as this helps keep the soil around the roots warm. You can tell if a melon is ripe by knocking on the fruit and getting a hollow sound, however the best way to tell is if the part of the fruit resting on the ground is now yellow and the colour of the rest of the skin it should be ready.
Unless you are getting a bush variety, most cucumbers and gherkins are vining meaning they need a wall, frame or trellis to climb up, but can also climb over the ground. Growing vertically does increase production by 15-25% and helps to save on space. Did you know cucumbers are 90% water, so its no surprise they need plenty to help the fruit swell before harvesting. If you don’t harvest cucumbers regularly the plant will stop producing, so even if you won’t eat them, still continue to pick them.