Crop trials: Cucumbers and melons
Planning to sow cucumbers, melons, pumpkins or zucchini this month? Prepare for a feast or a famine! The cucurbit family traditionally produces either too much or not enough, according to Lynda Hallinan
Lynda Hallinan finds the best varieties for New Zealand gardens.
My relationship with the curcubit clan is, shall we say, complicated. There are the gourd guys – the carefree courgettes, cucumbers, pumpkins and squash – and then there are the loathsome loofahs and misanthropic melons who inevitably play hard to get.
Collectively, these juicy fruit are known as Cucurbitaceae (pronounced queue-kerb-it-ace-sea) and they’re staples of most summer vege gardens. And yet, year after year, they overwhelm or underwhelm beginners and experts alike. For every top crop – mine include 65 ‘Diva’ cucumbers off one vine, 36 ‘Ballistic’ zucchini off one bush and 50kg of ‘Musquee de Provence’ pumpkins from a single seed sown – there’s a watermelon vine delivering diddly squat.
All cucurbits have one thing in common: they hate the cold. Naturally tropical or subtropical in origin, when frost knocks them down they don’t get back up again, so each season it’s a race against time to germinate the seeds and get the fruit to maturity before summer runs out.
Heritage seed saver Stella Christoffersen of Running Brook Seeds in Awhitu once told me that if my pumpkins weren’t flowering by Christmas Day, they’d fail to ripen up sufficiently to store through the following winter.
But storage was the least of my concerns when I carried out a comprehensive cucumber and melon trial last year. The cucumbers went great guns, as they always do, while the watermelons gave me the cold shoulder, yet again.
When I phoned Gerard Martin at Kings Seeds, seeking commiserations and commonsense advice for sowing cucurbits this year, he admitted to his own frustrations with their generosity (or lack thereof). “Sucks, eh?” he said.