Sanctuary Gardener’s Favorites: Cucurbits

SG Favorites - Cucurbits pic

Welcome to the third installment in my Sanctuary Gardener’s Favorites series ~ my favorite cucurbits. If you missed my favorite nightshades and legumes, see the links at the end of this post.

CUCURBITS

The cucurbit family is quite diverse, containing cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, watermelons, and melons.

PICKLING CUCUMBERS:

Russian pickling

I didn’t think this variety was going to do well in my Zone 8b garden, but they did well. I grew them for two years, then tried the Boston pickling cucumbers this past year. I have to say, I think the Russian pickling were more productive. They are quite tasty (very cucumber-y), crisp, and great for pickling. I will be planting this again next spring.

Russian pickling cucumbers

Russian pickling cucumbers

SLICING CUCUMBERS:

Long green improved

I have two favorites here. My first favorite is the Long Green Improved cucumber, an heirloom that grows about 6-8 inches long (though some gardeners have seen them grow to 10-12 inches). A great producer, I loved picking them when they weren’t fully ripe. At that stage, they were crisp, had tiny seeds, and were full of cucumber flavor. The skin is thin enough to eat, too. My favorite way to eat them was at breakfast with my fruit, cheese, and toast. When picked young, they can be pickled, too. Even when fully ripe, they still maintain their flavor and are not overrun with seeds.

Long green improved cucumbers

Long green improved cucumbers

Beit Alpha

I discovered a close second favorite of mine this past year when I saw this Israeli variety in a seed catalog. It also grows well in the summer heat here, and is just as tasty and crisp as the long green improved cucumber. They grow about 8 inches long, are burpless, and have a great shelf life. When harvested early (not quite ripe), they taste very good and are quite crisp with a tender skin. I also used the not-quite-fully-ripe cucumbers for my sliced kosher dill pickles, and they held up very well. I’ll be planting this variety again this year.

Beit Alpha cucumbers

Beit Alpha cucumbers

WINTER SQUASH:

I’m jumping straight to winter squash and skipping the summer squash because I have yet to be able to grow summer squash successfully here. (Thanks to the nasty squash vine borer.)

Black Futsu squash

This Japanese variety is part of the c. moschata species, which is more resistant to the squash vine borer (SVB) than other varieties. By starting them indoors and wrapping the base of the vine in aluminum foil when transplanted, most of my plants survived the SVB onslaught. The vines are quite productive and produce 3-5 pound, dark green, ribbed fruit that ripen to a golden tan. The flesh is incredibly sweet (sweeter than butternut squash) with a hint of hazelnut flavor. If I could plant only one winter squash, this would be the variety.

Black Futsu squash

Black Futsu squash

Seminole pumpkin

I have tried to grow pumpkins for three years, and I finally succeeded because I found the right variety for my climate. Amish Pie pumpkins and Long Island Cheese pumpkins didn’t grow well here – all vine, no fruit. However, Seminole pumpkins are THE variety to grow in Charleston! Another variety in the c. moschata species (I didn’t lose a single vine to the SVB), this native of the Everglades in Florida is an extremely prolific producer that is insect and disease resistant. The three-pound fruit ripens to a tannish orange, and the flesh is very sweet. The vines are quite long, so it’s best to have a large space for them or a fence for them to climb.

Seminole pumpkins

Seminole pumpkins

WATERMELONS:

Cream of Saskatchewan

Surprisingly, this old heirloom that normally grows up north, does quite well in my garden. The 8-10 pound fruits have sweet cream flesh with black seeds. It grows fruit and ripens sooner than any other variety I’ve grown. This is definitely a permanent variety in my spring garden.

Cream of Saskatchewan watermelons

Cream of Saskatchewan watermelons

Ripe Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon sliced open

Ripe Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon sliced open

Malali

This Israeli variety does very well in hot climates like mine. I’ve grown several varieties of red watermelon, and this one has produced the best for me. The round fruits grow to about 10 pounds and have light red, sweet flesh. They are perfect watermelons for small families.

Malali watermelon

Malali watermelon

MELONS:

Tam Dew honeydew

I have yet to find a favorite cantaloupe variety, but my first attempt at growing honeydew melon produced my favorite honeydew. The 4-5 pound fruit ripens to a green-tinted ivory color, and the light green flesh is very sweet with a unique aftertaste. Some descriptions have called the melon “spicy,” but I wouldn’t describe it as that. It does have a very distinctive flavor that will get your tastebuds craving more.

Tam Dew honeydew melons

Tam Dew honeydew melons

Rich Sweetness melon

Every year, I try new varieties of melons in my garden. Twice, I tried growing Tigger melons without success. However, I have found a similar small melon that was very productive in my Southern garden this past summer. This Russian variety grows to only 1/4 pound and has red-orange and yellow stripes when ripe. The flesh is extremely fragrant, slightly sweet, and very refreshing. One or two melons per person at breakfast are wonderful.

Rich Sweetness melon ripening

Rich Sweetness melon ripening

Be sure to learn about my other garden favorites via the links below.

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