The curcubit family is large, and its highly individualistic members are well known around the world. The family has its fragrant melons, its cool cucumbers and its flamboyant ornamental gourds; it includes pumpkins, zucchini, summer and winter squash, vegetable spaghetti and even luffa sponges.
All are tropical vines and must not be planted until the ground is warm. All require space, moisuture and a rich diet.
All curcubits bear yellow flowers. Some, like luffas, are showy and beautiful, while others, like cucumber blooms, are small and hidden by leaves. All bear male and female flowers on the same plant, and most require insect pollination to set fruit.
The leaves and growth habits are different - some climb, others grow bushy - and the final results show one of the greatest varieties of the vegetable world.
Most are planted in hills, and even the bush types need plenty of room to ramble. Four or five feet between hills isn't too much for bush varieties, and climbing curcubits need even more. The climbers can be trained on fences, but they'd better be strong fences - some of the fruits will get heavy enough to pull a weak fence down.
Planting in hills is a time-tested method. The idea is to dig some soil out of the spot you want to plant, fill the hole with rotted manure or compost and then hill the soil and helps it to hold wit. The compost enriches the soil and helps it to hold water longer.
Seeds for most of the curcubits are sown directly in the hills when the weather is warm. Plant them four to a hill and thin to two. And don't plant too many hills of one crop, or you'll be inundated.
Contrary to tales, melons and squashes will not cross-pollinate, so your melons will not turn out tasting like zucchini. Inter-breeding would show up only in the following generation. If you planted their seed, you might grow some strange hybrid fruits.
In the curcubit family, though, you don't have to be a plant breeder to grow strange crops. You can order seed for cucumbers shaped like lemons, and with a lemon flavor, and for gourds shaped like apples or pears. Turk's caps or Penguins.
Vegetable spaghettin is a football-shaped squash. You bake or steam it whole and then cut it open to reveal a mass of spaghetti-shaped squash.
Luffa is a long-season vine that produceslong, green squashes. They can be eaten like zucchini when they're young, but as they mature, their insides turn to fibrous vegetable sponges.
Most seed catalogs will fill you in on the news of the curcubit family, but two that carry large selections of melon, squash and gourd seeds are Gurney's Seeds in Yankton, S.D., 57079; and the Park Seed Co.; Greenwood, S.D., 29647.
Try to plant disease-resistant cucumbrs - because their major problem is a bacterial wilt disease spread by cucumber beetles, who'll thrive on all members of the curcubit family. Spreading wood ashes around young plants is an old-fashioned way to repel the beetles.
Early handpicking will keep down the squash-bug population, and cigarette ashes dusted around young plants will sometimes repel squash-vine borers. A mulch will keep down weeds and hold moisture.
Then all you need is good weather, luck and patience. The plants will fill their space fast. Then you can take a break, dream of sweet melons, and try to figure out what you going to do when the whole family comes to dinner.