Cucurbit plants are members of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), which includes cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash, and... you guessed it, gourds. It's possible to grow your own cucurbits in four simple steps.
Before we learn how to grow cucurbits, let's talk about this family and their ideal growing conditions.
Cucurbitaceae family characteristics
Overall, cucurbits are large plants with spreading vines that either need a trellis to climb up or a large space to trail along horizontally. These warm season plants produce white and yellow flowers, plus either a few very large fruits or many smaller fruits. They prefer full sun, consistent water, and soil with a lot of nutrients to help them produce fruit.
Cucurbits are prone to pests (like the squash bug) and diseases.
Explore the history of cucurbit rockstar, cucumbers, and their nutritional benefits (bonus: the invention of the pickle!).
cucurbit vegetables list
- summer squash
- winter squash
Before any botanists call me out, I want to clarify that the above members of the cucurbit family are actually fruits. But, with the exception of the melons, would you consider tossing any of them on a fruit salad? Probably not. We tend to associate cucurbits with steaming, savory soups made in the wintertime to warm us up. Plus, nothing depicts a fall vegetable patch quite like the site of some gourds and pumpkins.
how to grow cucurbits
Here are four easy steps to grow members of this family.
Because they tend to take up so much space, I recommend growing most cucurbits outside of your raised kitchen garden. I do grow vining cucumbers in my raised beds, but I save the squash, watermelon, and gourds for my "squash patch", which I created with my kids for a fun summer experiment.
This squash patch is a great idea to add some extra growing space to your current kitchen garden setup. My patch is farther away from the back door, which wouldn't work well for the daily tending a kitchen garden requires, but works perfectly for this low-maintenance patch.
Step one: prepare your squash patch
Put down some weed barrier first. I used a bunch of cardboard boxes I had on hand, but you could also purchase weed barrier cloth. Add four to five inches of pure compost on top (for my patch, that meant about five yards of compost delivered to my driveway). Like I said, cucurbits need a lot of nutrients to produce their fruit, so they love growing in straight organic matter.
Step two: sow your seeds
Cucurbits start well from seed directly in the garden. We planted a variety of seeds (most of them from Baker Creek Seeds) throughout the patch in little sections, with five to six seeds in each section. We chose several squash varieties, watermelon, melon, and gourds. (Our favorite was the spinning gourd—I've never seen so much consistent fruit growth on a cucurbit before!)
Add labels so you'll know what's popping up. I recommend adding some flower seeds alongside your cucurbits to attract pollinators when your plants begin to form fruit. We planted zinnias and sunflowers. Cover your bed in burlap or garden mesh until your flower seedlings mature a bit to prevent rabbits or other pests from eating them.
Step three: tend your squash patch
While we mostly just let nature do its thing in our squash patch, I did hand water when we experienced periods without any rain. Here's how to hand pollinate cucumbers and other cucurbits if you're not seeing the fruit production that you'd like.
Step four: harvest
Most cucurbits mature in around 80 days from seed. Pick your cucurbits when the fruits are relatively small. That's when they taste better, and by harvesting the mature fruits regularly, you'll tell the plant to focus its energy on producing more fruit.
The great thing about knowing a bit about plant families is that you can grow your knowledge faster. Once you've grown cucumbers, you now have a pretty good idea how to grow other members of the cucurbit family, such as butternut squash, zucchini, and even pumpkins.
If you've never grown any plant in this family, I recommend you give it a try, if for no other reason than to run a fun garden experiment and learn something new. Just see what happens! As we grow our plants, we're growing our selves and our knowledge, even if we don't get the results we were expecting.
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