Wednesday, January 05, 2011

a reader's question about cucurbits

Forwarded conversation
Subject: cucurbits
I am a shareholder with a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) down here in Osceola County. We have tried at different times of the year to plant cucurbits in our garden. The various varieties include cucumbers (Diva and Genuine), Zucchini (Plato), Summer Squash (Yellow Crookneck and Summer Zephyr), Butternut squash, Acorn Squash and small pumpkins. The plants all do well flowering well and sometimes even producing enough for our shareholders to have one or two in their boxes for a couple of weeks. I am amazed and bewildered at how little production we have when most of my experience has resulted in so much produce that you can't give it away for the abundance of it all. That however has been my "northern" experience. Down here, there must be a specific season or growing condition that we have missed, althought the strange weather conditions of the last couple of years have definitely impacted our production, I wondered if you had any suggestions. I liked the one about the microperf plastic bags to protect from insect infestations.
We have had great flowering and healthy plants in two forty-five foot rows and not had more than a couple of dozen fruit to harvest in a week. I thought perhaps we might need to "assist" in the pollination, but that is a tedious process I would like to avoid if possible. Is there something specific to Florida growing that I should know?
Thanks for any help you can provide.

for what it's worth, my response:

cathy--i'm in a rush, but here's my two cents: 1) people VERY often make the error of thinking that lots of blooms should produce lots of fruit. but cucurbits flower a lot, much earlier than they are ready to produce. think of it this way: generally speaking, the volume green matter equals the production capacity. (so, a three-foot cuke vine isn't going to produce many cukes). that's why the plants get so big, and they take a VERY long time to come into production. our problem in florida is that we have only, maybe, 6 or 8 weeks of prime cuke/squash weather. (most cukes, unless specially bred, won't set fruit when the nights are warm, over, say, 74°--they need a cool period in the evening to fertilize. let's not even talk about the bugs!) we'll never get the harvests you got up north. 

what this tells us: we must get those cukes in EARLY. beginning of march, large seedlings IN THE GROUND. i've only ever had luck with cukes when i've gotten them in very early. plant fast-growing, disease-resistant hybrids. be VERY liberal with water and fertilizer--unlike up north, where cucurbits are grown as least-hassle plants. 

finally, consider metki squash, trombone squash, luffa, and armenian cukes. i've also heard some people have had tremendous luck with asian hybrids--i'm going to try some this year. 

happy planting!

1 comment:

Rhonda said...

I am interested in CSA in Osceola County... can you provide a contact?