After a few days of dry weather, we got some good rain, with a very pertinent timing to aid my summer crops; the cucurbits (Cucurbitaceae botanical family), in particular, are doing very well. This year I am trying a variety of summer squash called Ronde de Nice, a French heirloom variety of Cucurbita pepo, very similar to zucchini, but as the name indicates, it produces rounded fruit; their flowers are also bright yellow, as shown at the top of this post. In the photos below, a few fully developed male flowers, left, and some female flowers at different stages of development, right:
The fruits are at their peak of tenderness when their size is less than 7.5cm (3″) in diameter, but if they grow further, up to 10cm (4″), they may be hollowed out and stuffed, an interesting option for a tasty summer dish. The skins are so thin that they hardly adhere to the flesh, making the fruits hard to transport, and prone to bruising, which is why they usually are not offered at grocery stores; however, they are very easy to grow, and a nice choice for a backyard garden. I also spotted a couple of nice, large squashes on the plants, which I harvested after taking the photos, below:
In a previous post, I have shared photos of my watermelon vines (Citrullus lanatus), featuring flowers and budding fruit; the photos below show the progress of one of the fruits over the last month:
For my gardening zone (6B), I adhere to mini varieties with relatively short maturation times, such as Sugar Baby; they are almost at their full size, but still need a few more weeks to ripen. Watermelon fruit grows in size quite fast, but to know when to harvest, observation of colour and quality of the skin is the key; in ready-to-pick fruits, the discoloured spot on their bottom side turns from pale green or white, to yellow or cream, and the skin grizzles, losing its lustre and acquiring a greyish, dark green tone.
Other important cucurbits in my garden are cucumbers (Cucumis sativus). With this crop, for me, it has been a hit-and-miss score; some years I get a bumper crop, other years the vines do not develop well, and the few fruits on them just wilt. This year seems to be (fingers crossed) a fruitful one; so far, the vines look healthy and strong (photo below, left), I have harvested a few good cucumbers, and there are plenty on the vines, at different stages of growth (photo below, right):
Sometimes I resort to manual pollination, using a brush to pick the little yellow grains from male flowers and then tapping them onto female ones, but as the season progresses, I get some help from beneficial insects, such as this cute bumblebee, seen below feeding on a male cucumber flower:
Bumblebees might not be as productive as European honeybees, but they do make some honey, just enough for their colony’s nourishment; many bumblebee species are native to North America, and have always been some of the best pollinators in home gardens.