Cucurbits (melons, cucumbers, squash, zucchini)
Throughout the United States.
Start seeds indoors or directly in the garden. Plant cucumber, muskmelon, and watermelon seeds 1 to 2 inches deep. Plant squash and pumpkins 2 to 3 inches deep. Set transplants in the garden so that the top of their root ball is even with the surrounding garden soil. Space transplants or thin seedlings as follows: Cucumbers and muskmelons-12 inches apart, or 24 to 36 inches apart if planted in hills; pumpkins and vining squash-36 to 40 inches apart; and bush squash and watermelon-24 to 36 inches apart.
Plant in high-quality garden soil rich in organic material.
Water when the soil is barely moist.
Most cucurbits are used soon after harvesting and should be cooled in the refrigerator until use. Winter squash and pumpkins can be stored over the winter. Pick only mature fruit, and cure them at temperatures between 80° and 85°F for 10 days. Then move the squash or pumpkins to a well-ventilated place with temperatures between 50° and 60°F. Store in a single layer; they rot easily if stored in piles. Dry gourds in an outdoor location with good air flow.
At planting time, apply a slow-release plant food formulated for fruits and vegetables.
Cantaloupe and muskmelon: When netting becomes pronounced and skin color turns yellow-tan; stem should separate or slip easily from the fruit. Cucumbers: Harvest at least every other day to ensure a steady supply. Pick according to the intended use and the variety, but before they turn yellow. Pumpkins and gourds: After the vines die in the fall but before a hard frost. Summer squash: Continuous picking ensures a steady supply. Pick zucchini and crookneck squash when they are 11/2 to 2 inches across. Pick patty-pan types when they are 3 to 4 inches across. Watermelon: When the spot where the melon touches the ground turns from white to creamy yellow; green skin is dull, not shiny; and the melon makes a dull thud when hit with the palm of the hand. Winter squash: After the vines die in the fall, but before a hard frost; when your fingernail doesn''t scratch the hardened skin.