Gardening Topic for April 2004
Add Interest to Your Garden with Some Less Common Vegetables

Provided by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association

By Lois Zissell, Master Gardener  


Why not try something a little different this year, which will add color and interest to your garden?  Here are some suggestions.  Seeds, for the following, may be obtained at your local garden center or from a variety of seed catalogs.

c. maxima

Description:  A white skinned, lightly ribbed fruit with a fine-grained orange flesh inside.  Ten-foot vines produce fruit, which are about 10-12 pounds and about 8-10 inches across.  Best used for ornamentation, lumina makes an attractive and unusual centerpiece especially when combined with orange pumpkins.  They are great for painting or carving.

Cultivation:  When soil temperature reaches 68 degrees (seeds will not germinate in cold soil), plant 4-5 seeds 1 inch deep in hills spaced about 5 feet apart with rows spaced about 7 feet apart (measured from the center).  When plants emerge, thin to two plants per hill.  Keep soil evenly moist to encourage well-formed fruit.

Diatomaceous earth sprinkled liberally over soil surrounding plants will discourage squash vine borers and other pests.  Black plastic mulch conserves moisture and discourages weed growth.

Harvest:  Harvest fruit early, if left on the vine too long they may develop a bluish tinge.  Fruit exposed to frost will not keep.  Leave a portion of the stem attached when fruit is harvested.

Note of Interest: You may notice that not all pumpkin flowers set fruit.  In monoecious plants, male and female plant parts exist in separate flowers.  Only female flowers set fruit.

Phaseolus coccineus

Description  This spectacular plant formed the centerpiece of the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden in the Northampton Community garden last year.  Scarlet runner beans produce sprays of attractive, bright red flowers, which attract humming birds and contrast vividly with the green leaves.  The beans when picked at a very immature stage may be used as a snap bean.  At more mature stages beans may be shelled and used like a lima or a dried bean.  A pole bean, the 4 or 5 foot vine needs a fence, trellis or other support.  Trellises should be placed on the north side of your garden to avoid shading other plants.

Cultivation:  Sow seeds when all chance of frost has past and soil has reached a temperature of 60 degrees. Plant 2-3 inches apart at the foot of the trellis with rows 3-4 feet apart.  Keep soil evenly moist especially during hot summer days.

Beans are subject to numerous diseases and pests.  Avoid wetting leaves and do not handle plants when the leaves are wet.

Harvest:  Keep beans harvested to encourage flowering.


1.      Lemon Cucumbers are spherical, about 3 inches in diameter with a white interior.  They are very mild in flavor, never bitter, and make a colorful addition to salads.  This is a semi bush type about 3-4 feet.

2.      Armenian, painter serpent or snake melon, c.melo, a variety which is common in Australia but not in the United States, produces quantities of a mild flavored, light green, slightly ribbed fruit on very long vines.  The fruit grows 2-4 feet long but is best picked when at 12-15 inches.  This is really a melon but tastes like a cucumber.  This variety must be trellised if it is to assume its characteristic snake like form.

Cultivation:  Cucumbers are tender plants, which thrive at relatively high temperatures (65-75 degrees).  Plant after all chance of frost has past.  Sow seed to 1-inch deep space plants 12 inches apart in rows 24-48 inches apart.  Plants will grow on a trellis.  Incorporate organic matter such as compost into soil before planting.

Fertilize with a complete (5-10-10) fertilizer according to directions on the label.  When blossoming begins use a high nitrogen fertilizer to side dress hills.  Be careful not to over fertilize which will encourage vine growth and retard fruiting.  A soil test will help determine what your garden needs.

Deep water plants and keep evenly moist, especially during fruiting.

Diatomaceous earth sprinkled liberally over soil surrounding plants will discourage squash vine borers and other pests.  Black plastic mulch conserves moisture and discourages weed growth.

Abelmoschus esculentus

Description:  Okra, a tender annual vegetable, thrives at high temperatures and grows to be 4 or 5 feet tall.  An imposing plant, flowers compete with ornamentals and attract humming birds.  Leaves and pods may be either green or red.

The pods may be used to thicken soups or stews or used in ethnic dishes such as Cajun gumbo.

Cultivation:  Start seeds indoors 3-4 weeks before the last frost or sow directly in soil when it has warmed to over 70 degrees.  Soaking seeds in warm water (110 degrees) for about an hour will softening the hard seed coat and make them germinate more quickly.  After plants emerge, thin to 12-18 inches apart with 36 inches between rows.

Fertilize with about cup of a complete fertilizer (5-10-10) around each plant when planting.  Keep plants watered so the soil is evenly moist.

Harvest:  Harvest pods when they are 2-4 inches long.  Frequent harvesting of pods encourages flowering.

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Provided by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association