WHAT ARE THE TRICKS TO GROWING VINING CUCURBITS?There are a number of Asian Vegetables in the Kings Seeds range that could be classified as Vining Cucurbits. Vining, because their fruit grows on a vine and Cucurbits, because they belong to the wider plant family called Cucurbitaceae. This family also includes Cucumber, Rockmelon, Watermelon, Pumpkin, Zucchini, Squash plus quite a few others.
Luffa (or Loofah), Angled Luffa, Edible Gourd and Bitter Melon (or Bitter Gourd) are integral parts of Asian cuisine from India and Pakistan through to Thailand and China. They all grow and fruit vigorously through the summer months, often reaching 4 to 5 metres in height.
Typically, all of these fruits have a mild bitter taste not dissimilar to a cucumber, but not as sweet and with a lower water content. However they do have very absorbent firm flesh that’s able to take on the flavours of the ingredients they’re cooked with - like herbs, spices, tomatoes, meats, chilli, onion and garlic.
Relatively easy to grow, if you keep in the back of your mind that they come from a sub-tropical environment! Sow seed in late October or even early November when temperatures are consistently warm especially overnight. A heat pad is essential for earlier sowing.
Transplant into the garden when the second true sets of leaves are forming and set the plants out 15 to 20 cm apart. Choose a sunny position with hummus rich, well-drained soil, next to a sturdy frame several metres high or a mesh fence upon which your plants can grow along horizontally.
Keep in mind that Luffa and Edible Gourds can reach up to 90 cm in length so need to be kept clear of the ground by that much. They’re best grown over a pergola, archway or a meshed fence where the fruit can hang freely to form a long straight shape compared to fruit grown on the ground which tend to be curled or misshapen.
Like any fruit, they’re best harvested young before the skin gets too thick or the seeds fully develop.
The vines prefer to grow in groups rather than singly as this aids pollination and help support each other by intertwining. The flowers of Gourd, Bitter Melon and Luffa have a distinctive musky smell not unpleasant but not alluring either.
Don’t forget that you can also leave Luffa fruit on the vine at the end of the season to fully mature for drying. They have a spongy interior that hardens to make a bath sponge, great for getting to those hard to reach places.