Grow your own …summer salad and squash

Crispy salad cucumbers, patty pan and gem squash are easy summer veggies that may take up more space than other veggies but are very rewarding, ideal for beginners.

Patty pans are bush squash, while cucumbers and gem squash are vines but in a small garden this can be solved by growing them vertically.

All have the same basic requirements: full sun, well composted soil that drains well, ample water during hot, dry periods, and adequate spacing for good air movement.

A good tip is to sow two to three seeds per hole. This encourages germination and if all three seeds germinate the excess seedlings can be transplanted or cut down to the base.

Bees pollinate the male and female flowers so steer clear of any harmful insecticides. Feed with a general fertiliser once a month, but not too close to the roots or it will burn them.

Calorie-free cucumbers are a long-lasting salad vegetable that grows throughout summer.

When growing them vertically, consider planting climbing nasturtiums with them. The nasturtium flowers attract bees to pollinate the cucumber flowers. Both nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible, adding a peppery flavour to the salad bowl.

If you don’t want to trellis them, pinch the growing tip once the plant has developed six leaves and this will encourage it to bush. The side shoots can also be pinched, and this will encourage further fruit bearing laterals. As soon as a fruit forms, cut back the stem to just beyond the fruit so that the plant’s strength goes into forming that fruit.

Cucumbers should be picked as soon as the mature length is reached. Leaving mature fruit on the plant causes it to lose its vigour.

Cucumbers are relatively pest free but powdery mildew is prevalent during dry periods. Use a broad-spectrum fungicide like Coppercount N.

  • For a traditional cucumber, try Kirchhoffs ‘Ashley’ that has trim, slightly tapered fruits with a deep green skin, or ‘Sweet Burpless’ that is a thick skinned variety with medium green, long, cylindrical and smooth fruits on vigorous plants.
  • Cucumber “Crystal Apple’ (RAW) has the shape of a Granny Smith apple with a pale, greenish-white skin, but the taste is pure cucumber with a tang. The smooth, creamy fruit is best eaten young, and is a bright, crunchy addition to salads. It is a compact growing plant

 Patty pan squash ‘Scallop Blend’ (RAW seeds) look like little yellow, green or stripy space-ships and like baby marrows, these bushy squash are easy to grow, with a prolific yield. Kids love the look of the colourful fruit, and they have a mild flavour. Add to salads, roast or steam.

Each plant needs about 1m² of space for growing. Being bush squash, it is best to water the plants deeply around the base so that the leaves remain dry and mulch to keep the leaves off the moist soil.

Feed twice during the growing season with a potassium rich fertiliser (3:1:5.). The squash form quickly once the female flower has dropped. Remove the fruit by cutting it off the stem with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors.

Gem Squash Rolet (little Gem) from Kirchhoffs Seeds is a South African favourite. The gem squash has a creamy, pale orange flesh with a lovely texture. Easy to grow, each plant can produce 15 or more fruits grown on trailing vines.

Pinch off the tips to contain the spread of the plant and produce better quality fruit. This helps the root system to sustain the plant.

Because gems are very susceptible to mildew, be careful not to wet the leaves when watering. Growing them upwards helps to keep the leaves dry. Support the fruit as the stems are brittle and snap easily.

Gem squash can be harvested as baby gems, which are soft-skinned with a delicate flavour, or left to ripen so that the skin becomes hard. Such squash have a delicious, nutty flavour.


Published in Caxton Online

Written by Alice Coetzee