A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

Today I’m bringing you the final entry in my 2014 Seed Starting Diary.  Starting this weekend, I will finally make the move from seed starting mode to garden planting mode, and I couldn’t be more excited!

However, this last entry is actually a first for me.  This is the first time I have started my cucurbit seeds instead of sowing them directly in the garden.   Why the change this year?  The main reason is the squirrels.  My constant battle with the neighborhood squirrels has been well documented on this blog.  Just this last weekend I pulled no less than 10 black walnuts and 3 peanuts out of my windowboxes, and within 6 hours of planting my front step flower pots (filled with fresh, nut-free potting soil), they had successfully uprooted more than half of the flowers and made a huge mess on the front steps.

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

And while I can usually save those flowers, squash and pumpkin seeds are an entirely different story.  The squirrels seem to sniff out the seeds very quickly after they have been planted, or what’s worse,  right after they have germinated, and gobble them up on the spot. The last time I grew pumpkins in the home garden, they seemed to leave them alone once they started to look less like a big tasty seed and more like a pumpkin plant, so I’m hoping that by letting these guys grow out a bit before setting them out, they’ll be less of a target for hungry squirrels.

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

There is quite a bit of diversity when it comes to cucurbit seed.  In general, the seeds are long, flat, and tear-shaped, but they come in a wide variety of colors, textures, and sizes.    This year I’m foregoing melons because of space constraints, but I am planing a number of pumpkins, winter squash, and cucumbers, and as you can see, I’m representing that diversity pretty well.

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

One of the nice things about cucurbits is that the seed remains viable for a number of years (easily more than 5 years). Seed saving is a little tricky with cucurbits, as they are easily cross pollinated by bees and other pollinators, but with a little effort it’s really not too difficult to do (keep an eye out for a more thorough post on this topic later this summer).

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

Somewhere along the way, someone once told me to always plant cucurbits on their ends to prevent the seeds from rotting before they germinate.  I probably didn’t have to worry too much about that this year with starting them indoors, but it is still a pretty slick way to plant them.  I just poke the end in the soil to start with, and then once all the seeds are in place, I can push them down, row by row, and then add a little more soil on top of the entire tray.

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

The pointy end is where the primary root starts to emerge as the seed germinate, so the seedlings get a nice, straight start as an well.

The most important thing to remember when planting cucurbits, whether you are doing so indoors or directly in the garden, is to make sure that the soil is sufficiently warm (at minimum 50-60 degrees, but the warmer the better).  Cool soil temp will delay germination and you’ll risk seeds rotting in the ground, regardless of how the seeds were planted.

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

Cucurbits know how to make an entrance.  They heave and push the soil as they emerge and then unfurl their cotolydeons and shed the seed casing with equally enthusiasm.   They are always some of my favorite seeds to watch in the spring, and it’s been really fun to have a much better view this year!

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

So what cucurbits are growing in my garden this year?

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

I am growing three varieties of cucumbers this year:

Boston Pickling is a very old heirloom variety that, as the name suggests, has good qualities for pickling.  If you can’t already tell, I’m ready to get back into pickling this year!

Delikatesse is a German heirloom variety that came highly recommended by some of my gardening friends.  It is supposedly great for both pickling and slicing.

Mexican Sour Gherkins are a unique heirloom.  The plants are tiny (as you can see in the photo above) and the fruits look like itty bitty watermelons.  They are said to have a sour, almost pickled, taste fresh off the vine.  I haven’t heard good reports on preserving these interesting cucumbers, but I think they’ll be great to have for fresh eating.

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

And I am growing eleven of varieties of pumpkins and winter squash:

Long Island Cheese and Connecticut Field are two traditional-looking orange pumpkin varieties that I am growing once again.

I’m also growing Musquee de Provence, a beautiful deeply ribbed brownish orange pumpkin, again.  These pumpkins were quite tasty, but they also made for gorgeous fall decorations as well.

Small Sugar is an excellent pie pumpkin that I am growing for the third year in a row.

Many of my new selections this year were based on growing a nice selection of different colored pumpkins and squash for both decorative purposes as well as to broaden my culinary comfort zone with winter squash: Jarrahdale is a blue-grey squash that is a great keeper; Thai Rai Kaw Tok is a green speckled squash that is also supposed to be highly resistant to disease and pest damage; Australian Butter was a last minute addition after receiving a package of seeds as free gift from Seed Savers Exchange, but it looks like it will be an excellent keeper over the winter months; and Lumina is a white skinned pumpkin.

Perhaps the most interesting squash in my garden this year is Silver Edge, a green and white stripped squash that is grown for its oversize and easy to hull seeds.

Rounding out the selection is Jack Be Little and a few assorted seeds I saved from some interesting gourds last fall.  I have no idea if the gourds will produce true to type, but I thought it might be fun to see what I get!

A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

The one thing you do want to be careful with starting cucurbits outside of the garden is that you don’t want to disturb the roots any more than you absolutely have to.  If you are not direct sowing, you want to be able to move the entire root mass, soil and all, into the garden all at once.    With that, timing is everything.  You don’t want to start them too early, otherwise you risk causing unnecessary damage or stress on your little cucurbit seedlings if they require potting up.

I still have a little work to do in my new squash garden, so I have about another week before I’ll be ready to transplant the cucurbits.  The seedlings are just getting their first true leaves now, so that timing seems about right to both protect the root system and protect the plant from hungry squirrels.  Stay tuned,  I’ll be sharing more about the new squash garden projects in the weeks to come!


One Response to A Seed Starting Diary: The Cucurbits

  1. […] We’ve had a crazy amount of rain this month so the work has been spread out over several weeks, but the transformation is just about complete (I just need to pick up one more bag of wood chips to finish off a small area next to the raspberries after I transplant a couple of new raspberry canes first).  I really like how it turned out and the squash seem to be enjoying their new home as well.  The plants are already starting to stretch out and a few varieties are even starting to form buds (for a list of varieties I’m growing check out this post). […]

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