This is growing cucurbits at Level Zero for absolute beginner gardeners. Learn to grow these, and the rest of the Cucurbit family will fall into place. The most easy cucurbits to grow, and those we prefer here in our patch, are CUCUMBER and ZUCCHINI. You might like to replace either one with PUMPKIN if you would like a longer grow time but a veg that will keep well into winter. To grow all three at Level Zero is a big call, because we like to see the commitment small, but you can give it a crack 👍😉
STEP ONE: In Level Zero gardening,
we stick to the most basic methods and simple routines that can prepare the garden for anything we want to grow. Check them out here first.
cucumbers need sun and something to climb
Our cucumber net and Obelisk
temporary bottle cloche for seedlings
seedlings, obelisk and slug trap
In our Level Zero calendar, October (mid Spring) is the month for cucurbits, but any time in Spring is fine. If planting by seed, they will be hardier than seedlings against frost, and also by the time they are up, most frost is over.
If planting by seedling, perhaps cover with a temporary cloche you can make with a 2L soda bottle, base cut off. It has a hole at the top for ventilation, and warmth inside on cold mornings.
A sunny spot, sheltered from from harsh wind is ideal for cukes. At Level Zero, you’ll need something they can climb, as the more advanced ground growing requires more attention to pests, pollination and circulation, so leave for another year 👍🤓
A growing net, trellis, strings or a lovely obelisk set up to grow them on is perfect, and looks the picture as well. Obelisk hardwood stakes are textured too, which helps tendrils get a strong foothold.
If planting by seed, space about 30 cm apart, one knuckle deep, to give vines good airflow, and put 2 or 3 seeds in each hole, to encourage competition to find the strongest plant. You can come by later and snip out the two weaker ones. If using an Obelisk, plant at each post.
A slug trap is also a good idea, espeically if using seedlings. Hangry slugs can demolish new plants overnight!
zucchinis are easy and prolific
Flowers near zucchini help to attract pollinators
Zucchinis grow up!!
separate male & female flowers
There are many varieties of zucchini (also called courgette or summer squash) but their growing conditions are about the same. Sow seed directly in Spring. If you plant seedlings, protect for another month or so with a ‘bottle cloche’.
Grow in a sunny spot, with plenty of space and air around them, about 40cm, because their leaves spread wide. Growing Zucchinis vertically helps a lot. Read more about that here. You don’t need a lot of plants; 4 is enough for an average family. As with all cucurbits, put 2-3 seed in each hole and pinch out all except the strongest when they have grown true leaves. (see pumpkin notes)
Don’t let zucchini grow too big, unless you want to eat large seedy marrow (which some folks like BTW). The long variety are best when no thicker than a 50c piece, and the round ones no bigger than your fist.
Zucchini have male and female flowers separate (female flowers have a small juvenile fruit at their base), producing sometimes more of one than the other. Don’t panic! If the plant is healthy, it will in time produce both. If you are super keen, you can hand pollinate, but that is a lesson for another time.
Pumpkins are a 6 month crop
sprout leaves followed by true leaves
pumpkins need a heap of space
Great for eating right through winter
Plant in Spring, grow through the summer months and leave on the vine to harden their skins, harvesting only when their stalk yellows off and begins to go dry.. Leave some stalk on, forming a seal (if it comes off, then eat that one right away, as under the stalk is an easy entrypoint for bacteria) and keep in an airy dry spot over winter to mature and sweeten. YUM!
Grow in a sunny spot, with A HEAP of space around them, about 2 metres per plant! These unsuspecting seeds will grow into a monster plant that seems like it never stops. We usually plant it in one end of the bed and let it tumble out and along the path. You don’t need a lot of plants; Plant 2 or 3 OF THE SAME VARIETY in a small group the size of a dinner plate, and fully expect them to take over about 2 metres all round. The same variety is important because they will certainly cross pollinate and you may end up with pumpkins not quite as expected.
Cucurbits, like most vegies, appear first with SPROUT leaves, then TRUE leaves (read more about that HERE). Once the true leaves really take off, the two sprout leaves die back. Don’t panic – totally normal.
Pumpkin need lots of water over summer, and a mulch is good too for keeping roots cool and moisture in the ground. Stop watering when the vine seems to wither and begin to yellow. This is normal and means the growing has slowed. Allow the vine to sit and mature.
- Choose a garden bed that has been trenched, so that it has plenty of organics to get them going. They are forgiving of course, but will love you for the extra goodies.
- Pre-soak seeds in a glass with warm water overnight. This softens the outside husk and helps with germination.
- Pre-water the soil to build a bank of moisture.
- Push seeds into the soil ON THEIR EDGE as flat cucurbit seeds may rot if conditions are very wet.
- POP THEM IN, firm down soil and mark them so you know where they are.
Cucurbits are classic volunteers in the garden, often coming up from trenching or compost. Feel free to leave some to grow, or take a chance and transplant them (after true leaves appear) to a bed where they have room to move >> BE AWARE that pumpkins need a whole bed for just a few plants, and they will crowd everything out. Don’t waste left over sprouts – all cucurbit sprouts are edible, and yummy in salads, rolls or sandwiches.
Also, thinning crowded volunteers like this deters slugs, which can move in quickly when these seedlings get going.
Look wide, grow well, folks.