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Cucurbits: plant maintenance and harvest

Growing cucurbits is not rocket science! Monitor and maintain your cucumber, squash and melon plants on a regular basis throughout the season to ensure a bountiful harvest of these wonderful fruits.

Although there are many varieties, cucurbits all require more or less the same care. To understand how to maintain your plants and when to harvest them, follow this guide.

Good maintenance

  • Water deeply and on a regular basis around your plants.
  • Do not water the foliage.
  • Add a small amount of fertilizer 4 weeks after planting your seedlings, then every 2 weeks.
  • For horizontal vines, mound stolons (creeping stems) with earth so that roots can develop at the nodes. This will increase the flow of nutrients to the fruit.
  • Spread a thick layer of mulch (10 cm) to conserve moisture, protect fruit, and lessen the incidence of disease.
  • Lift and support fruit from the ground
  • Check for pest insects.

Pruning and trimming

Cucurbit plants are hugely gratifying when it comes to harvesting their plentiful fruits. However, before you get there it is essential to prune and trim to ensure a healthy harvest.

Basically, pruning entails cutting away excess growth and trimming deals with eliminating dead or diseased branches, leaves and vines. The aim is to increase the numbers and quality of fruit.

Pruning vines that crawl on the ground is far less complicated than pruning vines that grow on vertical supports, since vertical vines need to be trained to grow in the right direction.

Stimulate plant development and balance growth.

Plants that put all their energy into growing leaves and stems have nothing left for their energy-deprived fruit! To encourage plants to put the focus on fruit, it's vital to cut back "unnecessary" vines and growth.

Pruning both horizontal and vertical plants allows for better air flow, sun exposure, and disease prevention.

As a general rule for:

Horizontal plants

  • Pinch out the tip of the vine, leaving a couple of leaf nodes past the outermost fruit
  • Pinch off new shoots above the 6th leaf pair.

Vertical plants

  • Pinch out the growing tip at about 2 metres, or when the plant has reached the top of its support. This will encourage side shoots.
  • When plants have grown to 1-2 feet, remove the suckers shooting off the stems. Use gardening clips to train the vine up a trellis or other vertical structure.
  • Pinch out the tips of flowerless side shoots after seven leaves
  • Always trim off dead or diseased parts of your plants throughout the season.

Muskmelon and watermelon do not need to be pruned.

Cucumber plants typically produce 10 to 15 fruits per plant all season until October. Harvest cucumbers when they've reached the size you want. Do not, however, let them grow too large or start to yellow, because they lose all taste. Cucumbers can be kept in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

Winter squash and pumpkins are harvested in early October before the cold weather. They can be kept in a fairly warm, dry space for up to a year. Clean fruits thoroughly before storing in a room where the temperature is between 10 o and 15o C.

Melons are harvested in August and September. For a juicy, delicious fruit, pick them late afternoon after a full day's sun.