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.

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