Our latest blog is one for the green fingered gardeners out there and it’s all about growing a certain group of vegetables called Cucurbitaceae and germinating Cucurbitae for the summer. You may not have even heard of that name before but you will have seen the fruit.
The Cucurbitaceae plant family consists of a group of thick skinned fruits with thick flesh and juicy innards. These vegetables are some of our favorites – squash, melon, pumpkin, aubergine, cucumber and some types of gourds – these are a staple in a broad range of summer meals.
Larger squashes, cucumber, and even some types of melon can be grown in the UK, and do really well outdoors. Cucurbitacea plants have a rather spiny hairy exterior, which works as a barrier to pests, and the plants also cross and cover the ground, snuffing out weeds.
They’re technically also climbers, almost vine like with grasping tendrils – the smallest variety the ‘mouse melon’ or cucamelon, is a true vine that climbs and grabs up sheer vertical surfaces and grows grape sized lime-flavored cucumbers that look like tiny watermelons.
Getting seeds for this genus of plants to germinate is part of the gardener’s timetable this time of year. We’re going to share some tips on germinating and caring for the new seedlings as they get bigger and hardier, ready to be planted out.
Cucurbitacea seeds are receptive to warmth during the germination phase. They’ll rapidly pop out of their casing and sprout in complete darkness, as long as there is good background warmth. The way we did this this year was very simple.
First, we placed a tupperware container in a small basket, and placed our seeds in small sectioned pots with soil inside the tupperware. After watering them in, we placed the basket on top of the radiator, but not directly on top – we placed a small wooden tray between the two. Then we covered the basket.
If you make sure your radiator is on a fairly low but constant warm setting at night, the seeds should benefit from warm air flowing up through the basket. Our basket had a lid, like a small picnic hamper, but you can easily cover it with cloth. This method got our melon and squash seeds to germinate 100% successfully in around 5 days.
We then transferred them to a bathroom window, where they are developing their first ‘true’ leaves. The initial pair of leaves that come out of a seed are not permanent, but once these type of plants grow a set of their true, more spiny leaves, and start to grow their hairy outer coat, they’re ready to go outside.
This year we chose winter squash from the hubbard squash family, which can be harvested late, in anticipation of another year where the spring takes longer to arrive but the summer stays on for longer. Summer squashes like the patty-pan and also technically the courgette (which is a type of squash) will also do well in these conditions.
We are also exploring the possibility of growing melons on a simple allotment and found variety suited to short summers and colder climates by growing a smaller fruit – the ‘minnesota midget’ cantaloupe melon grows cricket ball sized fruit and doesn’t mind a poor summer. Seeds are available online, and they’re an ‘heirloom’ variety, meaning they will grow again from the seeds you gather out of the fruit.
Cucurbitacea are a fascinating, rather hardy genus of plant, that covers a large areas of your garden, but provide very nutritious produce. They can be planted around more fragile, or insect prone plants as a protective measure, and work well as companions with beans, sunflowers, and corn. With a bit of warmth in the germination phase, you should have a very easy time amassing a crop of seedlings to plant out. Good luck!