Vine Crops
By: Jonathan Sturm
Pumpkins, Marrows, Cucumbers and Melons

Pumpkins, marrows, melons, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and chokoes are all members of the cucurbit family. They are vines, even the sort that have been bred to grow only into bushes. They are all killed by frost and need lots of warm weather to produce. They are also gross feeders, so the more compost in the soil the better.

Apart from the bush varieties, they also need lots of room to grow. The small-scale gardener often trains them against a fence, putting the larger fruits into slings to support them while growing. The gardener with lots of space will put a rock or tin can under the maturing fruit, to prevent rotting of the part that would otherwise be in contact with the ground. The members of this family are all very competitive with weeds and fast growing, so little in the way of weeding is needed after the first few weeks.

Since they like heat, it is a good idea in cooler areas to delay mulching until the ground has thoroughly warmed up. Some growers overcome this by using large rocks as a mulch. The rocks absorb heat during the day and release it at night, ameliorating the climate around the plants.

The cucurbits rely on insect pollination to set fruit. When these are in short supply, the gardener has to step in. The female flower has a swelling at the base that is the immature fruit. The male flower has no swelling. A male flower is stripped of its petals and the protuberance bearing the pollen brushed against the female counterpart. One male flower is good for four or five females. The flowers must be absolutely fresh. By hand pollinating, nearly every female flower will set fruit. The growing tips of the vines can be pinched off when any further fruits that set are unlikely to ripen. The end of the main leader will produce more side branches, which are more fruitful, when pinched off at a length of about one metre.

Like tomatoes, cucurbits hate wet leaves. Water in the morning and under the leaf canopy if at all possible. Water regularly and deeply, yield is severely restricted when water supply is uneven.

Pumpkins and Winter Squash

There is an amazing variety of pumpkins, both in appearance and in flavour. There are actually two sorts, winter squash and true pumpkins, but there is no cultural difference as far as the gardener is concerned. Their main characteristic is the setting of sweet fruit that has a hard skin, many of them keeping very well because of it. The size of the fruit varies from the size of a grapefruit in the case of the bush variety 'Golden Nugget' to the 50 kg of the large vined 'Big Max'. In between there are a multitude of colours, shapes and sizes, pink, red, yellow, green, banana, spherical, ribbed, acorn and turban. Try a sowing of each until you know the sorts you like and do well in your district. Some have moist flesh, some dry and some more or less sweet. The keeping quality appeals in some and the exquisite flavour in others. One of our favourites is 'Green Warty Hubbard', a winter squash. The skin is so tough it has to be broken into with an axe! It keeps well though, we like the taste and the famous keeper, 'Queensland Blue', does not ripen in our cool climate.

Pumpkins are best picked fully mature. For storage, they should be ripened in the sun, turning regularly to expose all sides. If a frost seems likely, cover them or carry them indoors overnight. Well-ripened pumpkins of some varieties will keep for two years or more. Make sure you leave the stalk on though. Do not use it for a carrying handle. Damage at the junction of the stalk and fruit allows rots in. Store them in an airy, dry place, spaced away from each other to prevent rots spreading.

Summer Squash

Marrows, zucchinis (courgettes), and summer squash are all variations on cucurbits that keep poorly and have little flavour. They are all prolific and whole cookery books have been devoted to zucchinis alone. Treat them much as you would pumpkins except that you pick them immature. Marrows are a giant zucchini, but this does not mean that a zucchini allowed to grow to the size of a marrow will taste the same. Zucchinis are generally harvested about 100-150 mm in length. Patty pan squash are harvested before the flower falls off, more often than not. Golden Crookneck is somewhere in size between zucchinis and marrows. The more you harvest of this group, the more they produce. Do not grow too many. You have been warned.

One standout in this group is Manchurian squash. More recently it has been renamed "Vegetable Spaghetti". The whole fruit is cooked, cut in halves, the seeds discarded and the pulp pulled out with a fork. It is in strings, much like spaghetti and is treated as such. That is, a tasty sauce is used to supply flavour.


Good, fresh cucumbers are hard to beat in salads or sandwiches. To grow them well requires a trellis. For some reason they like a trellis angled at about 45 degrees to the ground. The foliage scrambles over the trellis and the fruit hang below. For people who suffer from gas when eating them, there are so-called 'burpless' varieties available. The cultural requirements are the same as the rest of this group except they need slightly more heat to do well. The bush varieties do best in cooler climates and need no trellising. They do not produce so well, though. Ignore peculiar overseas advice that tells you to remove the male flowers to prevent pollination. They say it makes the fruit bitter. My response is what fruit? If my cucumbers go unfertilised, they do not set fruit. There is a female flower only variety, Pepinex. It is hard to grow, presumably because like all hybrids some seeds have insufficient life force to even germinate. It also costs an arm and a leg for a packet of five seeds. If you demand the absolutely maximum yield per plant and do not care about the quality of what goes in your mouth, then give it a try.

Cucumbers should be picked immature, that is before they start to yellow, for best flavour.


There are three sorts of melons. Watermelons require the most heat, and the rock melons/muskmelons require slightly less. Both require a lot more than pumpkins, squash and cucumbers. Culturally, their requirements are the same as the rest of this group. Watermelons are picked when they sound hollow upon tapping with the knuckles. The other sorts are ripe when slight pressure on the stalk disengages the fruit. Picked before fully ripe, they will not ripen properly.

Pumpkins and Winter Squash
Bush types
Bush Table QueenSweet, dry flesh. Good for baking whole.
Golden NuggetGrapefruit size. Good keeper.
ButterbushButternut type and flavour.
Medium Vines
Baby BlueSmall fruit, very dry, very sweet. Good keeper.
ButtercupDry flesh.
Hercules ButternutLarge butternut. Keeps well. Stands adverse weather.
Hercules ButternutLarge butternut. Keeps well. Stands adverse weather.
Large Vines
Big MaxGood for largest pumpkin competitions.
Blue BananaFruit up to 1 metre in length, tasty.
Crown PrinceExcellent keeper.
Golden DeliciousFast maturing, very tasty, poor keeper. Wish I could still get seed!
Henderson Late GreyGood keeper.
JarrahdaleGood keeper.
Queensland BlueGood keeper.
Red HubbardMedium size fruit, firm flesh. Our favourite!
Green Warted HubbardLarge, tasty, tough skin, good keeper. Need an axe to get to the flesh!
TriambleGood keeper.
Windsor BlackEarly maturing.
TripletreatHull-less seeds, good keeper.
SugarbushSmall bush. 80 days to maturity.
Candy RedResists Anthracnose and Fusarium wilt.
Charleston GreyResists sunburn, Anthracnose and Fusarium wilt.
Kleckleys ImprovedWilt resistant. Bright red flesh.
Sugar BabyRipens in cooler districts. Small fruit.
WarpaintUnderside of fruit changes to creamy yellow when ripe. Wilt resistant.
WarpaintUnderside of fruit changes to creamy yellow when ripe. Wilt resistant.
Jam melon
CitronThe best for jams and pies. Suits areas that grow pumpkins well.
Canteloup and Rock Melons
Honey BushFull size canteloup on small vine. 80 days.
Hales ImperialResistant to powdery mildew.
Honey DewSlow growing. Suits warmer districts only. Green flesh.
Bush types
Bush ChampionFull size fruit on compact bush. Heavy bearer.
SpacemasterSuits containers. Fruit 20 cm long.
Burpless types
Muncher BurplessFruit pale green, paper thin skin.
Long Green types
Marketmore 70Vigorous, prolific, holds well. Uniform size fruit.
Poinsett, or Green GemResistant to downy and powdery mildew.
ArmenianLong ribbed fruit. Requires no peeling.
Apple types
Crystal AppleRound, cream skinned, tasty, heavy cropper.
S.A. Large AppleLarger than Crystal Apple. Excellent quality and flavour.
Pickling Type
Super PickleGrown exclusively for gherkins. Heavy crops over long period.
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