Farmers Almanac
The Farmers Almanac
BUY The 2018 Almanac NOW!

Cucurbits: The Most Popular Plants You’ve Never Heard Of

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Add to Google+ Share on Pinterest Subscribe by Email Print This Post
Cucurbits: The Most Popular Plants You’ve Never Heard Of

Cucurbits are good for you. They are particularly high in vitamin A and zinc, and are an excellent source of fiber. If you think you’ve never eaten a cucurbit, think again!

While the term cucurbit may be a bit obscure to many of us, this plant family includes a large proportion of the garden varieties that are near and dear to us. In fact, this grouping contains more plant species used for human food than any other. It includes pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers, melons (including watermelon), and gourds. Characteristics that this huge and diverse group share are vines, alternating leaves, male and female flowers on a single plant, flowers with five fused petals, flattened seeds, and most importantly: fruits, most often with a hard outer covering. These fruits are technically a kind of berry called a “pepo.”

Although there are cucurbits found native throughout the world, the earliest evidence of cucurbit consumption is found in Mexico, where 9,000-year-old stashes of squash seeds have been found. Native Americans, of course, introduced pumpkins and squash to colonists; but their European counterparts were not quick to accept the “new” vegetables and they were largely used on the continent for animal fodder until the nineteenth century.

In colonial America, any large squash was referred to as a pumpkin. And, in fact, it is hard to draw the line, as any gardener knows who has saved the seeds from his favorite pumpkin only to wind up with some misshapen “squampkins” the following year. Pumpkins and squash cross readily, and it really is kind of fun to see what you can come up with. The results will be edible, if not aesthetically pleasing.

(Continued Below)

Pumpkins and squash can be prepared in myriad ways and were often roasted whole in embers during colonial days. The seeds were scooped out and the soft innards were smeared with honey or molasses.

Some interesting cucurbits include the relatively new spaghgetti squash – which scoops out in tasty strands, and goes great with spaghetti sauce – birdhouse gourds, and loofa, which may have originated in India and can be dried and used as a bath sponge.

The most common cucurbit found in backyard gardens today is the zucchini, which is available in every color of the rainbow, in addition to the ubiquitous speckled green. Whole cookbooks devoted to recipes using zucchini have been published to help gardeners deal with the awesomely prolific harvest provided by even a few plants.

Growing cucurbits is pretty easy, and nowadays there are many short-season varieties available. They require a good fertile soil, plenty of sunshine, and protection from frost. Probably about the most likely insect pest one might encounter while raising cucurbits is the cucumber beetle. These black and yellow beetles begin to appear when temperatures reach 65° F. They attack flowers and leaves, causing plants to wilt. Botanical sprays like pyrethrum or rotenone should take care of the problem. Some ashes around the bases of plants can also help to deter these pests.

Articles you might also like...

1 comment

1 Frutero { 10.26.10 at 12:38 pm }

If you live in Florida, your best bet for summer-grown squash is the calabaza, or tropical pumpkin. Wait until the sun enters Virgo before starting the more traditional pumpkins and winter squash. Summer squash are best started indoors or under protection and planted out as soon as the last frost date, so they can crop before the heat grows insufferable and the big, fat grasshoppers emerge. I hope this is helpful to other sandsuckers.

Leave a Comment

Note: Comments that further the discussion of the above content are likely to be approved. Those comments that are vague or are simply submitted in order to promote a product, service or web site, although not necessarily considered "spam," are generally not approved.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

Spring Is Here – Sign Up Today!

The Farmers' Almanac is a gardener's best friend. Get 365 days of access to our online weather and gardening calendars + a copy of the 2017 Almanac
for only $13.99 $11.99!

Subscribe Today »