As we move into the cooler seasons in parts of the world it is a harvesting time for late season crops and for protecting winter, early spring crops. With plenty of other tasks to carry through to prepare for the coming growing year.
Cucurbits: Part One
One of my favorite crops of late summer and autumn is that of Cucurbits. This includes marrow, pumpkin and squash as three main groups and several others belonging to the Cucurbita genus. This genus includes approximately 27 species of vigorous bush, climbing and trailing perennial and annuals. That is known to man, however there may be unknown ones which we have not discovered.
Originating from southern and northern America, with a small number of 6 first being essential food plants to crop in Pre-Columbian Culture of the Americas.
The Cucurbita genus is well known for its amazing array of shaped and sized fruits, ranging from bright oranges, yellows, deep ebony to pale green-blue fruit. Many are unusually shaped or textured, ridged, nobly, pie shaped or long tubular like a musical instrument.
Banana Squash, Pumpkins , Green Courgette
Ranging in size from a small pie to an enormous globe. The inner flesh could be pale yellow-whites, peachy pink to rich, dark oranges.
If you are a curious gardener, a beginner or experience the cucurbita is a rewarding genus to be experimenting with. Certainly a successful crop will be harvested with warm to hot summer seasons. And with such a diverse range of fruit a delight to grow. It also offers a fabulous selection of curious fruits which will bring much joy to children.
One can choose differing varieties within plant groups in this genus which are vegetable marrow, courgettes, gourd, squash, and pumpkin. These names do refer to plants within the Cucurbita genus yet some for example; gourd may also refer to plants in other families. The classification of plants can be confusing. To add to this within cultivation the fruit can also be classified by when they mature and are ready for harvest and/or storing. Such as Summer or Winter squash. The winter squash indicate they are suitable to store. They can also be classified by shape or form, such as the Turks Turban which resembles a richly coloured turban ! Amazing and true. A must try for the curious just for the wonderful shapes and colour tones….. One could continue with Crookneck Squash, Banana Squash…. Acorns, Scallops, Little Gem, Hundred Weight.
What fun growers had in the creation of names. You only have to read these or see a glimpse of a curious shaped fruit and be inspired to add them to your list of must grow.
Festival Squash with their beautiful colouring & a basket of Gourment Gourds & Courgette
Courgette which is French and zucchini which is Italian are actually immature fruit of marrow. As any courgette grower will know when you don’t pick them often enough you soon a have lots of marrows to use !
It is just as well that there are so many uses for this genus in the home and kitchen.
Depending upon the variety the uses as food range from cooking to use uncooked.
Grated, blended, baked, grilled, and roasted. Used in stock, soup or juiced with other vegetables. In salads finely sliced or diced as crudités. Pumpkin is also used in marmalade and has history as an animal feed due to amounts which can be cropped and storage capacity.
The seeds in many are delicious fresh, hydrated and soft. So different to shop bought dehydrated packets of pumpkin seeds which could be a number of seasons old. One can dry your own seeds for later use from mature fruit such as marrow, pumpkin, gourds and squash. Valuable oils are provided by the seeds and even the soft young seeds will be rich in raw omega oils. Unheated and fresh from mother earth and organic if you are gardening organically.
Some Cucurbita seeds are known as a medicinal treatment to expel worms. Containing a substance known as Cucurbitine. Gourds are generally grown as an ornamental crop due to their wonderful shapes, often dried or scalloped out to create a vessel, water bottle, snuff box, drum float, percussion instrument to name a few.
Textural and taste qualities vary also, from moist, soft, sweet to nutty or melon like. The Vegetable Spaghetti has spaghetti-like flesh and can be scooped out of the skin in long stings. Great alternative cooked or raw to grain spaghetti.
Certain varieties are sweeter the more mature they become or are dryer and have a good storage capacity once mature. Ideal for winter use if carefully stored in a dry atmosphere.
And so to a little more research to decide exactly which varieties you would like to grow in your vegetable garden and until the next Kitchen Garden where we will discuss how to grow the Cucubita genus.
Summer Squash & mini Sweet Corn
Laara Copley-Smith is a professional Garden Designer based in the UK with a passion for Kitchen Gardens and growing organically. Laara has been a vegan for over ten years, is a raw foodist and is a keen photographer. Laara offers an extensive range of bespoke design services and creative consultancy and can be contacted here.
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