Seed list 2014 – part 5 – cucurbits

The fifth article in the series looking at our sowing plans for the coming season covers the cucurbits – cucumbers, melons, summer and winter squash. Whilst melons are a somewhat marginal proposition, we have a great harvest of cucumbers and summer squash, both of which are prolific. We also reserve one of our large borders for winter squash, which, if they store well, can provide many winter meals.

Cucumbers

There are three main sorts of cucumber. First, the old fashioned glasshouse cucumber, which bears both male and female flowers. The male flowers need to be removed as pollinated fruits can be bitter. Second, the modern hybrid glasshouse cucumber that bears only female flowers. Third, the outdoor ridge type, which does not need to have male flowers removed. Although we have grown various hybrid sorts in previous years, I have now dropped them completely. Not only am I reluctant to grow hybrids, but those we have grown have lacked flavour and have not even been particularly prolific. The old Telegraph, on the other hand, produces masses of very large and delicious cucumbers. In practice, even though I have been rather lax in removing the male flowers, I have yet to get a bitter fruit, and a little extra effort is well rewarded with great tasting cucumbers.

We also grow some ridge cucumbers. These are usually grown outdoors, and we have planted outdoors, but they also do very well rambling around under the potting tables in the polytunnel. In previous years we have grown Marketmore, whose fruits are smaller than the usual cucumber, and much more so than Telegraph, with the characteristic knobbly skin, but a very good flavour. Marketmore is a relatively modern sort, bred in the 1960s. When I run out of Marketmore seed, I would like to try the old variety Bedfordshire Prize Ridge, which dates back to at least the 1700s. I have grown several sorts for pickling and usually grow one large variety and the cornichon Vert Petit de Paris. This year we are only growing the smaller sort.

  • Telegraph improved
  • Marketmore
  • Vert Petit de Paris

Melons

Melons are not ideally suited to our climate, but if given a warm spot they can produce some delicious ripe fruits, although they tend to be smaller than usual in our experience. At the moment, our selection of melons is a little arbitrary. Charentais is a classic orange fleshed melon, and in this case I grow the old open pollinated variety rather than a modern hybrid sort. We have also found Ogen to perform well, developing robust plants. This melon hails from Israel, although it is said to have been developed from Hungarian seed. The rest are Italian types that we are trialling. Others that we would like to try at some point include the English bred Blenheim Orange and the very old French variety, Petit Gris de Rennes.

  • Ogen
  • Charentais
  • Rampicante Zuccherino
  • Retato Degli Ortolani

Summer squash

Summer squash might not be among our favourite vegetables, but they are prolific and fruit early in the season. Our selection of courgettes is rather arbitrary – all that we have grown have provided a good harvest, and we have not managed to narrow the selection based on culinary properties either. I usually grow one or two ordinary courgettes and a round fruited sort. I do not grow, specifically, those varieties intended for marrows, but any of the courgettes will readily produce large fruits, especially if overlooked for a week or two. For variety, we also grow a patty pan type, which tends to have a firmer texture.

  • Verde d’Italia
  • Genovese
  • Zucchini
  • Tondo di Piacenza (round fruit)
  • Tondo di Nizza (round fruit)
  • Custard White (white patty pan type)

Winter squash

We fill one of our borders with winter squash each year, but are still trialling new varieties. Sweet Dumpling and Waltham Butternut have become firm favourites and I imagine we will grow these each year. We have grown F1 Crown Prince for the last two years, but although it produces very good squash I have removed it from the list this year as I am trying not to grow hybrids. Musquée de Provence has performed well for us in the past, producing some very large squash with reasonable flavour. We tried Marina di Chioggia for the first time last year, but although the quality was good, the crop was not large. We will try both again this year and then decide whether they will keep their place on the seed list. Tonda Padana and Burgess Buttercup are new varieties for this year.

  • Sweet Dumpling
  • Waltham Butternut
  • Musquée de Provence
  • Marina di Chioggia
  • Tonda Padana
  • Burgess Buttercup

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