The group of plants that are mostly vinous and produce garden staples such as cucumbers, melons, squashes and pumpkins is generally known as cucurbits. Most of the cucurbits share the same growing requirements: well-drained soil, plenty of compost, and warm conditions. Our fall and winter temperatures are just fine for vines.
Cucumbers and squashes are best grown in soil that has been raised a few inches by the addition of compost, known as hills. In the absence of compost you can mix in plenty of peat moss and enrich it with 6-6-6 fertilizer and give bi-weekly waterings with Miracle-Gro.
Generally available locally are three types of cucumber: English, American ridge, and pickling. The long English cucumbers demand to be grown onto a trellis to produce straight fruits. Ridge cucumbers can grow on the ground but appreciate their young fruits being raised. Pickling cucumbers can be allowed to grow longer than the recommended two inches and give service sliced and quick pickled for a few hours or days in the refrigerator. Patio ridge cucumbers have compact vines and can be grown in 5-gallon containers with a tomato tower inserted. Harvest all cucumbers slightly early.
You may experience a fruit set problem. In back gardens this is often caused by growing too few fruits. When female flowers are produced there may not be male flowers available to pollinate them. The more vines you have the more successful you are likely to be. There are all-female flowering varieties that set fruit without the need for male flowers. If you have both male and female flowers but get no fruits than the cause may be lack of bees. Hand pollinate your female flowers, the ones growing on the end of a small fruit, by dabbing the centre of a plucked male flower onto the centre of a female flower some time between sunrise and mid-morning on a dry day.
Squashes come as summer and winter types. The fast-growing summer squashes such as crookneck and zucchini need plenty of water and bi-weekly applications of Miracle-Gro. Avoid having the plants grow too closely together. As for cucumbers, pick the fruits early while they are firm and have small seeds. Winter squashes such as Acorn and Butternut take longer than cucumbers to mature but are very reliable performers.
The main pumpkin grown in The Bahamas is the Cuban calabaza, ideal for savoury rather than sweet dishes. It needs a lot of space to grow in and can reach 30 to 40 feet. Seeds are usually obtained by buying a quarter or half fruit from a supermarket offering local produce. Look for plump seeds and dry them for a week or two before planting.
Cantaloupes and other sweet melons are best grown in spring. They are gross feeders and do best when well fed with compost and fertilizer.
Watermelons break all the rules for cucurbits. They do not like compost and enjoy sandy soil similar to the African riverbanks they originate from. We will deal with them in a future article as this is not watermelon season.
I have saved the bad news to last. The humid air of The Bahamas encourages the transfer of mildew and fungus spores to the damp surfaces of leaves and warm sunlight promotes their growth. Beautiful green leaf vines can be turned into unsightly skeletal remains in very short order. The solution is to spray early and regularly with a fungicide. If chemical treatment does not appeal to you, try spraying with milk made from powder. Applications should be made weekly.