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WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY CUCURBIT?

written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published- JUNE 27, 2014

WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY CUCURBIT?

Cucurbits (squash, cukes, and melons) are popular garden veggies. That is probably why questions about cucurbits are second only to tomatoes when it comes to problems that gardeners encounter in their vegetable gardens.

A common question is, ‘why aren’t I getting any squash even though my plants have a lot of flowers?’ To understand the answer it is important to know that cucurbits have separate male and female flowers. Only the female flowers can produce fruit and only the males produce the pollen needed for pollination and fruit development. The cucurbits depend primarily on honeybees to transfer the pollen from the male flowers to the females.

In order for pollination to occur, both male and female flowers must be open at the same time. Typically, cucurbits produce all male flowers at the start of flowering and a little later also produce female flowers. Conversely, plants of hybrid cucurbits generally produce female flowers first and male flowers second. However, before long both sexes of flowers are open at the same time and then the bees must go to work.

Once male and female flowers are blooming at the same time, there are several reasons that fruit still may not develop. Lack of honeybees or low bee activity due to hot weather, wind, or rain can hamper successful pollination.

If the honeybee population is low or nonexistent, you can assume the duties of a honeybee. Do this by picking a freshly open male flower (they have pollen in the center) and removing the petals, leaving the center portion (anthers) with the pollen. Insert this into the center of a newly open female flower (has a baby fruit at its base). Gently move the anthers around to transfer the pollen from the anthers to the center structure (stigma) in the female flower.

Another common cucurbit question comes from area gardeners when they discover small to large dry whitish or tan spots on the leaves of squash, melons, or cukes. It is typically most severe on the plant’s larger, older leaves and not evident on the youngest leaves. It looks like a disease problem, but it usually is wind injury. This occurs when the winds buffets the leaves about, causing the spiny surfaces of the leaves and stems to wound themselves. Badly injured leaves will be very brittle and often tear after additional windy weather. Placing a garden in a less exposed spot or shielding the plants from wind in some way might help.

Area gardeners also wonder why the leaves of squash wilt during the day and then perk back up in the evening. Is it a wilt disease or squash bugs? No, this daytime wilting indicates that the leaves are not being supplied with enough water to keep up with the amount of water they are losing through their leaves during the heat of the day. This ‘lack’ of water may be caused by too little soil moisture, a poorly developed root system, root rot from too much water or poor drainage, or root damage from enthusiastic weed cultivation. Consider the situation and try to remedy it for a healthier, more productive plant that does not wilt during the day.

Other common problems to look for on cucurbits are squash bugs and powdery mildew. You can find out more about these on the WSU website called ‘Hortsense,’ short for Horticultural Sense. You can find Hortsense at http://pep.wsu.edu/hortsense/. Start looking for squash bugs now.

Published: 6/27/2014 11:40 AM

THE YEAR OF THE MELON

written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

The National Garden Bureau has named 2005, the ‘Year of the Melon.’ Every year the National Garden Bureau recognizes a different vegetable with this designation. This year melons, the cousin of the watermelons, squash, cucumbers, and gourds, get their special recognition.

What exactly is a melon? According to the dictionary it’s ‘a large round fruit of various plants of the gourd family, with sweet pulpy flesh and many seeds.’ Botanically the group of plants we generally call ‘melon’ (with the exception of watermelon) is named Cucumis melo. These melons are divided into two groups. The Reticulatus group contains the melons that most of us know as muskmelon or cantaloupe. They’re easily recognized by their netted skin. When ripe, their aromatic fruit easily detaches or ‘slips’ from the vine. In recent years, gardeners have started to discover Charentais and Galia melons, two different melons in this group. More about them later….

The other group of melons is the Inodorous group. They’re commonly referred to as smooth or winter melons. Their fruit are not aromatic when ripe and they don’t slip off the vine. This group includes the popular honeydew melon, as well as casaba, crenshaw, Christmas, and canary melons.

While many of our vegetable crops can be traced back to their native origins in the wild, melons have never been found growing in the wild, except for garden escapees. Melons are believed to have their origins in the hot climates of southwest Asia, in the area of Iran and India. They’ve been a cultivated crop for over 4,000 years and have been grown in American gardens since the 1600

s.

As a vegetable crop, melons love hot, dry conditions and thrive at temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees. They’re best planted after the soil warms up in the spring and after the threat of frost is past. Many gardeners, especially those in cooler climates, try to get a jump on the season by starting their melon seed indoors and planting the transplants outdoors at the right time. However, this should be done only about 15 to 18 days before planting outdoors. If planted too early, the plants become too big and suffer much more transplant shock when placed in the garden.

In cool climates, gardeners also try to get a head start by warming up the soil in late winter or early spring. This is done by placing black plastic mulch out in the garden where melons (and other warm season crops) will be planted. The black plastic absorbs heat and warms the soil. Once the soil reaches a temperature of 60 degrees or more, seeds or transplants can be planted by making x-shaped slits in the plastic… as long as the danger of frost is past and the weather has warmed.

Whether you plant seeds in the soil or use transplants, be sure to give your melon vines plenty of room to grow. If you plant in ‘hills,’ be sure to thin your plants when they have two sets of true leaves, leaving the two strongest plants per hill. If you plant through a black plastic mulch, situate plants four feet apart on six foot centers.

Once your melon vines are up and growing in the garden, they need plenty of water. It’s best to keep the soil evenly moist. To conserve water, consider using drip irrigation. You will want to cut back on watering a bit just before the melons are expected to ripen. Gardeners and growers have found that too much water from rain or irrigation three weeks before harvest can adversely affect the fruit’s sweetness and flavor. You don’t want to drought stress the plants, but they should not have an over abundance of water during those three weeks.

Now let’s talk about the different kinds of melons that you might find in a seed catalog or perhaps a grocery store or farmer’s market. First the netted or summer melons…

Ananas Melons (also known as Middle Eastern melons): The fruit have an oval shape with a medium fine netting over a pale green to orange rind. The flesh is usually white, very sweet, and aromatic.

Athena Cantaloupes (cantaloupes found in the eastern U.S.): The fruit have an oval shape, coarse netting over a yellow-orange rind, and slight suturing. (Suturing is the longitudinal indentations down the sides of the fruit.) The flesh is firm, thick, and yellow-orange.

Charentais Melons (also known as French Charentais): The fruit are small, with smooth gray to gray-blue rinds and sutures. The flesh is orange.

Galia Melons (Israeli melons): The fruit have pale netted rinds. The sweet flesh is pale green to white and described as spicy-sweet or banana-like in aroma.

Muskmelons: These are the American cantaloupes with which we are most familiar and commonly found in the grocery store. They have orange flesh and netted skin.

Persian Melons: The fruit is bigger than cantaloupes, with a dark green rind and light brown netting. As the fruit ripens the rind turns light green. The flesh is bright pink-orange with a delicate flavor.

Now for some of the smooth skinned winter melons…

Canary Melons: The fruit is oblong shaped with a bright yellow rind. The flesh is juicy, mild and cream colored.

Casaba Melons: The fruit is oval shaped with a pointy end and a wrinkled yellow skin. The flesh is almost white and very sweet.

Crenshaw Melons: A cross with a Casaba, the fruit have a more oblong shape and a rind that ripens from green to yellow. The peachy-orange colored flesh has a strong, spicy aroma.

Honeydew Melons: This popular melon has smooth, white to greenish-white rinds. The flesh is sweet and usually green, but can also be white or orange.

Oriental Melons: The fruit are small with a very thin, yellow rind with white sutures. The flesh is pale peach to white and sweet. The seeds are very small. Because the seeds are so small and the rind is very thin, the entire melon can be eaten.

So celebrate the ‘Year of the Melon’ by growing some melons in your garden this year… or at least trying some that you may not have grown or tasted before.

Published: 2/19/2005 1:59 PM

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