Eight-pound straight-necked squash – picture by Rex Trulove
One of the few drawbacks of growing melons, squashes, pumpkins, and the like is that the plants can take up a huge plot of land. There is a way to grow melons and cucurbits that takes far less room, however. Grow them vertically.
What a cucurbit is
For those who’ve never heard the term ‘cucurbit’, this reference is to vining plants of the gourd family. This actually includes melons but also includes summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers. One thing they have in common, besides being gourds, is that they have a climbing or sprawling growth pattern like other vines.
Why vertical gardening works
Vertical gardening works well with cucurbits because it uses the propensity of these plants to grow up a solid support, such as a trellis or strong wire fence. The idea is to train the plant to grow up and along the support by securing it to the fence or trellis.
With some cucurbits, the plant only needs sparse securing because tendrils are formed that wrap around the trellis or fence and help support the weight of the plant. For instance, both cucumbers and cantaloupes are strongly vining and put out lots of tendrils. On the other hand, plants like zucchinis may need to be tied the support at lesser intervals.
Since the plant is allowed to grow upward rather than sprawling over the ground, far less ground space is required in order to grow them. As an example, it isn’t uncommon for a pumpkin plant to cover an area in excess of 144 square feet, if it is allowed to sprawl on the ground. If the plant is grown vertically, even allowing for plenty of room with no competition with other plants, it can be grown in less than 20 square feet of soil space.
The key to vertically growing cucurbits
Small four pound straight-neck squash on the fence – picture by Rex Trulove
The main problem that vertical growing has is that many cucurbit fruits get quite large, creating a strain on the vines. The vines usually aren’t strong enough to bear the full weight of the fruit.
There is a way to overcome this, however. You can use discarded clothing or even nylons to create a hammock or cradle around the developing fruit. The clothing is tied directly to the support, so the plants don’t need to carry the weight.
Additionally, since the plants grow up instead of out, it is much easier to remove the weeds around the base of the plants.
Doing this has a side benefit, too, if you have problems with deer eating your garden. Deer will often eat any cucurbits that they can see. The operative word is “see”. If the clothing you use for hammocks covers the fruit so the deer can’t see them or easily get to them, they aren’t nearly as apt to eat them.
Yet another benefit of vertical gardening is that when harvest time comes, you normally won’t need to do a lot of stooping to collect the fruit since it is supported off the ground.
One warning, though. If you use this method on pumpkins, they normally won’t turn orange unless they can get sunlight. For this reason, nylons or clothing that allows sunlight through is a good idea.
There are some great benefits to growing melons and other cucurbits vertically rather than letting them sprawl over the ground, even if you have plenty of space. If you lack the space, though, this might solve the problem of not having enough room to grow melons, squashes, pumpkins, or cucumbers.