Allotments are places for growing good things you like to eat, like juicy strawberries and strawberries. But what about cucumbers?

Despite being maligned as limp and boring, the cucumber family (Cucurbitaceae) contains a huge range of tasty, colourful and sometimes amusing crops. Many varieties succeed well outdoors but if you have a cheap and cheerful polytunnel, then that will increase the varieties that you can grow.

All in the best possible taste
The taste of home-grown cucumbers (Cucimis sativus) bears no comparison to supermarket versions. There are two main types - ridge varieties for outdoors and under glass and non-ridge varieties for growing indoors only. Both grow on vines which produce male and female flowers, with the females being identified by a small swelling behind the flower. Non-ridge versions must have all their male flowers removed to prevent the fruits from becoming bitter, however as with all things, humans have meddled with nature to create a few non-ridge varieties that produce only female flowers, thus dispensing with the need to snip. An example is the intriguingly named ‘Femspot F1.’

For all types: sow seeds in small pots of compost from late April through to June and keep them moist and warm on a windowsill or polytunnel till two main leaves appear. Both types can then be planted directly into a polytunnel bed, and outdoors too for ridge types. Feed them with tomato food and grow on a trellis or another structure around six-foot high which the plants can scramble up. The best-known reliable ridge variety for outdoors and a tunnel is ‘Marketmore.’  This succeeds in Scotland, but almost any ridge will work well. ‘Wuatoma’ is worth trying for pickling and ‘Crystal Lemon’ is a bit different, being round. ‘Burpless Tasty’ does what it says, allegedly.

Scottish Gardener:

Gourd fun
Gourds are under-appreciated members of the Cucurbitaceae family, seldom seen on allotments, yet their payback in entertainment is excellent. Seeds for snake gourds (Trichosanthes cucumeria) and Japanese snake gourds (Lageneria siceraria) are easy to get hold of and they are grown in the same way as ridge cucumbers. The vines are heavier so supports must be strong. The aim is to grow the longest, wiggliest, weirdest object to amaze, talk about, and decorate as you please. Mature gourds develop a hard skin perfect for painting and provide an ideal way to occupy children who say “been there, done that” whenever sunflowers are mentioned. 

Scottish Gardener:

And there’s more
The Cucurbitaceae family also includes summer and winter squashes. For summer squashes (Cucurbita pepo) sow the seeds a couple of centimeters deep in pots around May, keep them warm till it they sprout two main leaves, then plant outside two to three feet apart when the weather ahead looks good. No support is needed.

Summer squashes are just courgettes in different clothes. You can have plain green ‘Black Beauty’, or you can plump for the frilly white patty pan variety ‘Custard White,’  the bright yellow ‘Burpees Golden Zuchinni’, or try ‘Zephyr’ to wave at the allotment committee.

For winter squashes sow, plant and grow in the same way but allow them to scramble where they please, nipping off the topmost bud when the vines get too long for available space. Winter squashes like their food so dig in some rotted manure a few weeks before planting if you have time. Otherwise, water regularly with tomato food.

When choosing varieties just pick what you like the look of; ‘Crown Prince’, and ‘Queensland Blue’ are both easy to grow good medium sized blue/green pumpkins. ‘Thelma Sanders’ is pale and slightly weird looking, but why not? Or you could try ‘Boston Squash’, which looks like a big yellow ‘Maraca.’