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GROWING: CASSABAS – CUCUMBERS – MELONS PUMPKINS – SQUASHES – MARROWS
As the general treatmemt covering Soil Preparation, Seed Raising, Transplanting and Cultivation, is practically the same for all the Cucurbitous family, which includes Cucumbers, Melons, Water Melons, Rock Melons, Pumpkins, Squashes and Vegetable Marrows, these plants have been included under the one heading, and any detailed information or points of difference in their cultivation necessary, are linked at the end of this section. All the plants of this family are heat loving, and cannot be planted in the open until the ground has become warm.
Sowing for early plants
To have plants ready for putting out as soon as the weather permits, seedlings should be raised in a hot bed and hardened off ready for transplanting, or they can be raised in a warm place in the house in seed boxes filled with soil. This method is a particularly good way of securing early Cucumbers, Melons, etc., as there is no check when the plants are transplanted into their permanent position. The bottom of the box is removed at planting time and the remaining framework, with the plant intact, sunk in the garden.
Sow about seven or eight seeds in each seed box, picking out the strongest for growing on. The advantage of this method is that strong, well-grown plants are ready to be planted out as soon as weather permits and just as soon as the seed could be sown in the open ground.
Soil Requirements and Preparation
All the Cucurbitous family require good, deeply worked light, rich soil, and where manure is deficient, this must be added. Heavy or clayey soil must be lightened by the addition of sand and wood ashes, and if the ground is wet it must be drained. After the soil has been properly prepared, “hills” must be made and the richer the soil in these “hills” the better. The distance between the “hills” varies for the different plants and the necessary details for the different sorts will be found appended. To prepare the “hills”, dig holes two feet square and eighteen to twenty-one inches deep, place two feet of well-decayed manure in the bottom of each and replace the soil, leaving a low mound of earth, slightly convex at the top. Then plant two seedlings to each “hill”. lf seed is sown in the open, sow five or six seeds to each ”hill,” and when the seedlings have developed a few leaves, pull out the weakest, leaving two, or in the case of Cucumbers, three to produce the crop
Keep the soil between the “hills” well worked to preserve the soil moisture until the plants have developed sufficient foliage to cover the ground. A good mulch of well-decayed manure will greatly increase the yield and will also help to protect the roots and keep them moist. An abundance of water is necessary whilst the plants are growing, and until the fruit is nearly full-sized, after which little or none should be given, the plants then being kept quite dry. Properly made “hills”, and an abundance of water while growing are the chief essentials in growing Cucurbitous plants, and “hills” made as recommended above will obviate the necessity of any subsequent applications of fertilisers, except, perhaps, a mulch of well-decayed manure. Too much nitrogen in the soil and over doing liquid fertiliser whilst the plants are growing, is apt to cause them to run to vine at the expense of fruit.
Honeydew Melon or Cassaba
The Cassaba may be summed up as a Winter Musk or Rock Melon, and the means of cultivation is the same as recommended for that plant. The Cassaba, however, is quite distinct in favor from the Musk or Rock Melon and its flavor varies with the different varieties. The fruit generally takes two or three weeks longer to ripen than the Rock Melon, but may be picked as soon as they lose the green lustre. In the case of Golden Beauty and Winter Pineapple, the Melons are not ready for eating until the hard rind gives under pressure, whilst the Honey Dew, which is ready to pull when the color shows the slightest tendency towards yellow, is ready to eat in few days after it is slightly soft. If properly stored in straw, the fruits can be kept right through the Winter and used in the Spring and on this account the Cassabas are particularly valuable for shipping long distances.
When it is intended to keep Cassabas for any length of time, group the fruit all together on the hill in the Autumn, and cover them completely with the vines, being careful not to pick or cut them off the plants. The Persian Musk Melon, whilst not a true Cassaba, is very closely allied and is also a very delicious member of this tribe.
The Mango Melon, or Vegetable Peach, produces a fruit about the size of an Orange. It is baked or boiled like a Vegetable Marrow, and makes excellent preserves and pickles. The treatment is the same as that recommended for the Water Melon.
Preserving or Citron Melon
The Preserving Melons are used for jam making, and are treated exactly the same way as Water Melons. The two best varieties are Citron Red-seeded, and Citron Green-seeded, which are of equal merit and actually only differ in the color of their seeds.
Rock or Musk Melon
Five feet apart each way between the “hills” is necessary for Rock Melon plants to develop thoroughly. To induce lateral growths, pinch out the leader as soon as three or four rough leaves have grown, and meantime keep the laterals from bearing fruit. When the four main branches are well grown, the fruit bearing laterals can be allowed to develop and flower. The female flowers must be crossed with pollen from the male flowers, and when the fruit is set, the laterals must be stopped at one or two leaves beyond it. When the fruit is about one inch long, thin out to about six or seven to each plant, and pinch off all subsequent blossoms, as well as any weak or subsequent growths. When the fruit begins to ripen, hessian or canvas should be stretched over a frame to prevent moisture injuring it, otherwise the flavour is greatly impaired, and the most delicious varieties become watery and insipid. This precaution is unnecessary during dry weather. Pick as soon as ripe, and this condition can generally be detected by the distinct perfume of the fruit. Another indication is when the end of the stems, holding the fruit, turn soft. Rock Melons must be picked when ready, and never allowed to become too ripe. They may be gathered a few days before they are perfectly ripe, and stored in a dry, warm place to mature. A few specially good varieties are Emerald Gem, Extra Early Hackensack, Large Yellow Cantaloupe, Long Island Beauty, Rocky Ford, and Spicy Cantaloupe.
Vegetable Marrow and Squash
The treatment necessary for Vegetable Marrows and Squashes is exactly the same as that described for Pumpkins, except that only one instead of two plants is left in each “hill”, and that they can be planted closer. For the bush varieties allow four feet by three feet between the “hills”, and for running or trailing sorts eight feet apart each way. Marrows and Squashes require little or no thinning except when the vines are too thick and then a light pruning is judicious. The best of the Running varieties are Long White Running, Long Green Running, Pen-y-byd, and Rice Marrow and Hubbard Squash. The most suitable of the bush sorts are Bush Fordhook and early White Scalloped Squash, Long Green Bush, Long White Bush, and Custard Marrows. Unless there is plenty of space available the Bush varieties, which do not take up as much room as the Running sorts, are by far the most suitable for the Home Garden.
For Watermelons, allow six feet each way between the “hills”. Should the plants be in an exposed position, the principal shoots should be pegged down at intervals to prevent the wind blowing them about, and thus reducing the yield of the fruit. There is no need to pinch back the shoots, as the plants will bear abundantly without any attention in this normal melon requirement. Just after the plants are put out or the seedlings (if planted in the open) are well above the ground, apply a little liquid cow manure or Nitrate of Soda, but discontinue this as soon as the plants are growing strongly. To get the best fruit, thin out to two or three to a plant, and pick as soon as ripe.
This state of ripeness in watermelons is denoted by the white spot where the fruit rests on the ground turning yellow and tough, and when the fruit no longer gives out a ringing sound when struck by the hand. Watermelons may be picked before they are thoroughly ripened, and matured in a dry, warm place. Some of the best varieties are Black Spanish, Cole’s Early, Cuban Queen, Halbert Honey, Kleckly Sweets and Sugar Stick.