How do you grow - cucumbers, squash, jalepenos, watermelons, okra

melissia(7)April 29, 2009

I'm just curious and looking for "secret" tips that people might have for growing cucumbers, cantelope, squash, jalepenos, watermelons, peppers, okra and peas - I think this is pretty much my garden : )

Looking forward to seeing what everyone does. . .


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cucumbers - I plant a hard boiled egg in the hill, then a layer of dirt and then the seeds with more dirt - why I dont know but they grow bigger and better

watermelons - always go in sandy soil, in a pot or raised bed if I have to will have to water more but they love it

okra - soak in buttermilk over night before planting

Of the listed there these are the only ones that I do anything different for...

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 12:57PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I don't think I have any "secret" tips but I'll throw out a few tidbits about raising each crop.

CUCUMBERS: I grow two kinds--slicers and picklers. I like to grow all of them either on a fence, a trellis or a cage because the cukes are easier to find that way. It is amazing how hard it can be to find a green cucumber in all those green leaves if you let the plants run along on the ground. Sometimes I plant a bush variety like Picklebush because bush pickles give maximum productivity in minimal space. You can even grow Picklebush in containers.

I don't plant cucumber seeds until the soil temps are at least 60 degrees because they don't germinate well in cold soil. Adequate watering is essential or cucumber growth will stall, so I water well and mulch heavily.

I like to pick cucumbers while they are smallish--esp. for pickling. And, be sure to keep the plants well-piecked. If you leave even one cucumber on the plant too long, the whole plant slows down and stops producing.

If you only have room for one type, but you want to have both picklers and slicers, plant a picking type and harvest some for slicing too. However, using a slicer as a pickler doesn't usually work.

If you want to grow an unusual type, Lemon Cucumber is a great heirloom type that is lemon-yellow at the picking stage, or orangey-yellow if you leave it on the vine too long.

CANTALOUPE: Most of the melons we call "cantaloupe" in the USA are actually muskmelons. I grow all my melons (cantaloupe, muskmelon, and all the minor melons) the same way I grow cucumbers--vertically, usually inside tomato cages. You can put a lot more plants in your garden that way and the melons are less likely to rot or have insect damage if they are not lying on the ground. With heavier melons, I make a sling or support for them using either cheesecloth, or knee-high nylon hose.

With melons, overwatering and overfeeding can dilute the flavor, so I take care not to overwater, especially once fruitset is occurring. If the plants are overwatered after melons have formed and are ripening, the flavor can be awful (as in, there is no flavor) and the texure will be poor. So, water 'em while the plants are growing and flowering, and then be really careful not to water too much. I don't feed mine at all--just improve the soil by adding organic matter every year and let the soil feed the plants.

Often, people think their fruit is poorly flavored because their melons cross with cukes or other cucurbits, but that is not what happens--it is the overwatering/overfeeding.

Melons perform best on loose, friable, sandy loam or silty loam although they perform well for me in highly improved clay, esp. in raised beds.

I prefer the flavor of heirloom melons, but grow both heirlooms and hybrids in order to have a nice variety. If you are buying plants or seed, any of the Hale's, Hale's Best, Hale's Best Jumbo, etc. are great. For heirloom melons, you can buy seed of many. Some of my favorites are Collective Farm Woman, Canoe Creek Colossal, Piel de Sapo, Charentais, Eden's Gem, Pike (best performer in clay soil that I've ever seen), Nutmeg, Prescott Fond Blanc, Early Frame Prescott, and Golden Jenny. Honestly, though, I've never tasted an heirloom melon I didn't like.

SQUASH: Lots of people overplant squash. I usually plant only 1 or 2 yellow crookneck plants and 1 or 2 zucchini plants at a time, although I will succession plant new plants later in the summer as the original plants play out. I tend to plant these at the edge of the corn bed because they are huge monsters and can get quite large. The key to good production is to check the plants daily and harvest promptly. Failure to do so can leave you with very large, tough crookneck or straightneck squash or very large, often watery zucchinis were poor texture. People who grow for "size" often don't get the best flavor.

I usually plant squash only after the cold nights are over. Squash plants like a lot of water too, but are prone to foliar disease, so soaker hoses or drip lines or watering by hand at the ground level and keeping water off the foliage works best.

Winter squash, including pumpkins, like really warm soil and I don't plant them until the soil temperature has been at least 70 degrees for three days in a row. Most winter squash and pumpkins take up a lot of space, so mine go on the edges of the corn bed where they can ramble and roam to their heart's content. There are a very limited number of bush types of winter squash and pumpkins, or mini-pumpkins, if you have space issues. These plants get foliar diseases like powdery mildew very easily, so I won't plant them until June if April and May are very rainy, and that often helps keep disease to a minimum. Squash bugs are a common pest. I try to keep these to a minimum by checking the backs of leaves for eggs and removing and destroying those eggs if found, and by hand-picking and drowning any squash bugs I see. Squash vine borers are your plants' number one enemy and covering the plants with floating row covers (and pollinating flowers by hand since pollinators cannot get inside the row covers) helps keep their damage to a minimum.

JALAPENOS: Peppers are grown pretty much the same as tomatoes, to which they are related. I always start with transplants. If direct-seeded, peppers won't produce until late summer or fall. I set out my peppers about two to three weeks after tomatoes, or about the first couple of weeks in May since cool temperatures can permanently stunt them. Peppers set best when nightimes are above 60 degrees and daytimes are below 80, so May really is their perfect month for growing, flowering and setting fruit. If you are getting lots of blooms by the end of May or even in the first couple of weeks in June before the true summer heat arrives you'll have a great yield. Hot peppers set fruit better all summer long than sweet peppers, but both will set well in the fall.

Pepper plants are brittle and break easily, so I either stake them to 2'-3' tall stakes, or use the small, cheap tomato cages you buy at the store, to support them. Even just a heavy load of ripening peppers can snap the plants in half, and support helps prevent that. Pepper fruits themselves get sunscald easily, so I often plant them where they get full sun from sunup until about 1 or 2 p.m., then shade until about 4 or 5 p.m., and then a little sun late in the day and they produce just fine, with less sunscald too.

Sweet peppers are often harvested green, but I like to let them turn their mature color before I harvest--it takes a couple of weeks more, but the flavor is 1000% better. I usually grow sweet peppers that mature to red, orange, yellow, purple and chocolate.

Peppers are water guzzlers and will sulk if you let them get too dry, so I like to water deeply and never let the peppers wilt. If they wilt, they do not bounce back as well as other plants do after wilting.

By the way, hot weather seems to make peppers hotter, so the hotter your summer weather, the hotter and better your pepper flavor.

WATERMELONS: These take up a lot of space. A whole lot. So, I tend to go with smaller space saver types. The best melon I've ever grown and eaten are Blacktail Mountain, bred by Glenn Drowns, who owns Sandhill Preservation Center. The seed is available from Sandhill and from other sources too like Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek. They are small melons with dark red flesh and dark green rinds and superb flavor.

Other small bush-type melons that I grow in my garden include Sugar Baby, Bush Sugar Baby and Yellow Doll.

Like cantaloupe and muskmelons, too much water ruins the flavor and too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, causes white heart--which is white spots with no flavor in the middle of the melon. So, avoid chemical fertilizers and don't overwater. Melons put out their vegetative growth first but you ought to see flowers appearing about 8 to 10 weeks after the plants are transplanted, or after the seeds sprout. If you use transplants instead of seeds, and you set them out at the right time (soil temps should be at least 70 degrees), you'll get blooms and melons about 2 weeks earlier from transplants than from direct-seeding.

PEAS: I don't know if you mean cool-season peas like green peas, sugar snap peas or snow peas, or if you mean southern peas like black-eyed peas, crowder peas or cream peas, so let me know which ones you're growing.

OKRA: Okra is one of the true heat lovers and goes best if planted fairly late. Okra sprouts quickly if direct-seeded in warm (75-90 degree) soil. Generally one planting is all you need (unless deer get into the garden and eat your plants down to the ground) and the plants produce all summer long. Keep the okra picked or production shuts down. I pick when the pods they are 3", 4" or maybe 5" long. If you let them get longer, they'll be very tough. Once okra is producing, I pick every day or every other day. It only takes about 4 to 7 days for okra to go from the flower stage to being ready-to-pick.

I think okra is a gorgeous plant and like to plant it in my mixed border along with flowers and herbs--especially when planting the ones with red pods. If space is an issue (the plants can get 6' to 8' to 10' tall), you can grow the dwarf ones like "Baby Bubba" or "Little Lucy". Both look wonderful in flower beds or pots as well as in the veggie garden. In deer country, it is almost impossible to grow okra unless it is protected by a fence.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 1:53PM
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Great information...

The only thing I can think of is when i transplant a tomato, and the stalk is long, I either plant it way deep or I gently bend the plant and let only the top 3" show, my grandpa told me that they will make roots off of whatever is underground. . .

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 7:54AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


That's true. In a dry year I'll plant as much as 2/3's of the stalk underground, but I'm less likely to do it in a wet year, or at least I do it differently.

In a dry year, I'll dig way, way down vertically and plant as deeply as possible. Anyone who does this needs to pick off any leaves that would be buried or they can get diseased and maybe even carry disease into the stalk. I always do make sure to leave the upper one-third of the plant above ground with plenty of leaves.

In a wet year, I'll plant more shallowly. I still plant as much of the stalk under the soil as possible, but will dig a horizontal trench and lay the plant down on its side in that trench--with 2/3s of the stalk buried in the trench a couple of inches beneath the soil surface, and the remaining 1/3 above ground. In a wet year, too much deep soil moisture (like I have right now) can stunt and even kill the plant, so more shallow planting in a sideways trench works better than digging deep. Of course, in a year like this, you may not know when you're planting in early to mid-April that late April is going to bring monsoon rains. I had a "hunch" this year (mostly because it always takes a flood to end a drought and we'd had enough rain that our drought was ending, so I was expecting a flood) so I have not been planting very deeply.

With over 15" of rain here in Love County this month, and 12" of that in one day this week, I'm glad I didn't plant deep this year. If I put any more tomatoes in the ground, they'll go in horizontal trenches, but with an ongoing wetter than average spring, I may put the rest of my tomatoes in containers. That wasn't part of my original garden plan.....but I know I have to adapt to the weather we're getting.

Happy Growing!


    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 8:52AM
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