Growing Cucurbits – Courgettes, Marrows, Squash and Pumpkin

Growing Cucurbits

Courgettes, marrows, squashes and pumpkins are all closely related. It is not worth saving their seed as they cross pollinate too freely. They all need similar conditions especially rich soil and warmth at the start.

Growing Cucurbits - Courgettes (zucchini) Courgettes (or zucchini) give large numbers of small fruits from each plant which are easy to cook in myriad ways. If you stop picking them, they grow into marrows and no new small ones are produced. They need a very rich soil to do well, and flourish on the compost heap. Grow courgettes amongst sweet corn, peas and beans, but avoid having potatoes nearby. Sow in pots in the warm in late spring, and plant out three feet apart once the last frost has gone. Or sow direct under a cloche or plastic bottle in late spring. Watch out for slug damage, but otherwise they have few treatable pest or disease problems.

Marrows are treated exactly the same except that most varieties produce long stems which can be trained up fences or along wires. They can be grown under and over sweet corn if it is well established or wound up sunflower stems. Squashes and pumpkins are similar and need the same treatment, but more space —plant them four feet apart. Most squashes and pumpkins keep better than marrows, but are you going to use them?


Epicurean attentions

Picked with a short stalk when fully ripe, marrows and squashes can be stored hung from a garage or shed roof in old stockings or tights.

My suggestions: ‘Raven’ and ‘Ambassador’ are the supreme courgettes, the yellow varieties such as ‘Golden Zucchini’ are poor but add colour to dishes. ‘Long Green’ trailing is probably the best marrow. ‘Green Bush’ is a compact variety more like a courgette plant. Vegetable spaghetti is just a marrow with stringy insides, only worth growing if you like it ‘Golden Nugget’ is the best storing squash for winter, it has a compact habit. ‘Uchiki Kuri’ is a similar Japanese form and has sweet nutty fruits which can be added to soups and stews or baked. ‘Mammoth’ grows big, takes even more space and has little culinary value, unless you want to eat pumpkin pie for months on end. Grow courgettes instead.


Ridge Cucumbers, Gherkins and Japanese Cucumbers

Ridge cucumbers, gherkins and Japanese cucumbers are often considered the poor relation of the greenhouse or frame cucumbers, but can have fine texture and flavour if grown well. They can benefit from a coldframe or cloches and can be grown in a cold greenhouse or tunnel. In hot summers, ridge cucumbers do well under sweet corn or sunflowers in the light shade. They also grow well amongst dill, peas, beans, beet and carrots, but dislike potatoes and most strong herbs especially sage.

Sow the seed, on edge, half an inch deep in individual pots in warmth in late spring. Keep warm and pot up until planted out at least two feet apart with some protection in early summer. Alternatively, sow in situ under cloches in early summer. Most trailing marrows can be grown up fences or over trellis once they are vigorous enough to fill the cloche or coldframe. It does not matter if they are pollinated as, unlike indoor cucumbers, this does not make them bitter. Gherkin varieties for pickling are more reliable and can be eaten as small cucumbers anyway and vice versa. The Japanese varieties are the easiest to grow — I find them as generously productive as runner beans can be.


Epicurean attentions

Gherkins are best picked small so check them daily. Dill goes exceptionally well with all cucumbers.


Sweet Corn

Maize is bred for animal fodder and is not good for eating. Sweet corn is almost uniquely Anglo-American and relatively unknown to continental Europeans. Traditionally grown in a hillock covering a dead fish, the modern alternative is incorporating fishmeal, seaweed meal or compost as sweetcorn needs rich moist soil. It should follow a legume or be sown with them, because it does well with peas or beans. I have grown French runner beans up and over sweet corn. The light shade makes the space underneath conducive to ridge cucumbers, squashes, courgettes, marrows and even melons in warmer climates. Sweet corn may also be interplanted with brassicas or sunflowers, and I find that potatoes are a good intercrop, keeping the soil moist and providing the young shoots with more shelter.

Sweet corn has few pest or disease problems, but is hard to grow in cold, wet conditions, so it is often started off under cover in deep pots to give it time to crop. I sow some indoors in pots in mid-spring and sow a second and third lot a week apart direct during late spring, so that at least one lot will do well! Each sowing or planting hole is dug deep and wide and partly refilled with soil and sieved compost, with extra ground seaweed. The seedlings are planted out deep, but refilled in two stages and then later earthed up to encourage rooting from the base of the stem, as it helps keep them upright. Similarly, when sowing direct, the seed is covered with only an inch of soil at at the bottom of a deeper hole.

Whether transplanted or direct sown, the hole and seedling are covered with a plastic bottle cloche which is left on until the plant is a foot or so high, to protect it from the cold winds. Sweet corn grows best at two feet apart each way, in blocks for pollination. Do not grow extra sweet varieties near ordinary ones as they cross pollinate with poorer results. A good watering once the cobs start to swell is really worthwhile!


Epicurean attentions

A real luxury this needs to be cooked within half an hour of picking or it is not as sweet. I run indoors with the cobs to plunge them in already boiling water. Sweet corn is bulky but freezes well after blanching, so strip it from the cob for use in soups.

06. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Growing Cucurbits – Courgettes, Marrows, Squash and Pumpkin

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