Kharif Season Blog #6: Cultivating Cucurbit Crops

Growing guide and farming techniques for cultivation of cucurbits

Cucurbit is an umbrella term for all species of the family Cucurbitaceae, of which there are about 800 species in 130 genera. Cucurbits are vegetable plants which are consumed worldwide as food. They can be prepared and eaten in various forms, e.g. salad (cucumber, gherkins, long melon), sweets (ash gourd, pointed gourd), pickles (gherkins), and deserts (melons). Some of them, such as the bitter pumpkin, are also said to have unique medicinal properties.

Cucurbit crops are particularly important cash crops for small land holders and family farmers. In India, a number of major and minor cucurbit species are grown in several commercial growing systems. Furthermore they are also popular crops for private garden cultivation.

The FAO estimates that cucurbits in India are grown on about 4,290,000 ha with a productivity of 10.52 t/ha. Thus, cucurbit cultivation accounts for about 5.6% of India's total vegetable production. This growing guide will cast light on the major cucurbit crops cultivated in India by introducing best practices for pest prevention and sustaining bountiful yields.

Crop Group

The cucurbit crop group includes vegetable species like Pumpkin, Snake Gourd, Bottle Gourd, Bitter Gourd, Cucumber, Ridge Gourd, Tinda/Round Melon, Pointed Gourd, Ash Gourd, Sponge Gourd as well as Watermelon and Muskmelon, just to name a few. Among these various cucurbits, cucumber, melon, watermelon, and pumpkin are the four most commonly cultivated crops in India.

Seed Treatment

At very low temperatures, pre germinated seeds are sown for smooth germination. The seeds should be soaked for 24 hours. Wet seeds should be kept in a gunny bag or covered with cotton cloth and kept in a warm place for one week to germinate. As soon as the shoots are visible outside the seed coat, they can be sown. For more information on seed treatment please click here.

Before sowing, treat the seeds with Trichoderma viride 4 g/kg or Pseudomonas fluorescens 10 g/kg or Carbendazim 2 g/kgå

Land preparation

Plough the field four times and form long channels,1.5 m apart.
In order to enrich the soil with organic matter, add garden manure or well degraded farmyard manure such as cow dung. Cucurbit crops can be cultivated as summer or monsoon crops. The sowing time depends on the type of crop - Talk to the #Plantixperts in the Plantix Community about the best time to sow the seeds.

Cucumbers are almost always sown directly, like most cucurbits crops, hence they do not transplant well and transplanting costs would also be difficult to cover. During direct seeding you should consider a distance of 45-60 cm in the trench at a depth of 3 to 4 cm. Two seeds are generally sown in one place. If seeds are sown too deep, the emergence will be delayed. The sowing rate varies according to the crops to be cultivated. Usually 2-3 kg for cucumber, 4-5 kg for bitter gourd and bottle gourd, 3 kg for sponge gourd and flash gourd on one hectare.

If you prefer transplanting, container-grown transplants should be planted when daily mean soil temperatures reach 15°C (60°F). In this case, transplants should be protected from winds with hot caps or row covers. The planting spacing depends on the growth method, the variety and the type of harvesting method. Talk to the #PlantiXperts in Plantix Community for more specifics to get the most out of the season.

Generally it can be said that close spacing increases yields, ensures more uniform ripening and reduces weed problems. On the other hand, it also results in shorter fruits with a lighter color. If you cultivate vegetables from a cucurbit crop group in greenhouses, have a look on our blog about greenhouse operations and crop management for deeper insights.

Plastic Mulch

After the beds have been prepared, it is advisable to lay black and silver plastic mulch over the bed surface. The black side of the plastic should be laid towards the floor - this prevents weeds from developing. The silver side should face upwards - this reflects sunlight and reduces heat absorption. In addition, the reflective side also helps to deter sucking insects. After the plastic has been laid, perforate the foil with 10 cm diameter holes to allow for planting.

River Bed

The riverbed, commonly known as Diara Land, is a very old practice of growing vegetables on the bank, a basin or shore zone or an area between two or more rivers. Riverbed cultivation mainly facilitates the seasonal production of pumpkin like vegetables. Under riverbed conditions it is possible to catch the early market and make more profit.
If you want to know more about cultivating cucurbit crops with the river bed method, we strongly recommend this innovating article from agriavenue.com

Pest prevention

Cucurbits are attacked by a number of insect pests and viral diseases at different growth stages. These diseases can result in losses through reduction in growth and yield and are responsible for feeding damage and mottling of fruit, making the product unmarketable. Therefore, in order to keep your plants healthy and strong, you should consider a comprehensive approach:

The most important thing in Integrated Disease Management is regular scouting. The regular use of the Plantix Health Check function is recommended here. Early detection of plant diseases allows enough room for manoeuvre for a combination of strategies and tactics.

This may include site selection and preparation, the use of resistant varieties, changes in planting practices and changes in the growing environment through drainage, irrigation, pruning and thinning. In addition to these traditional measures, monitoring environmental factors (temperature, humidity, soil pH, nutrients, etc.), predicting diseases and setting economic thresholds for management are important. Whether you cultivate cucurbits or other vegetables and crops, in the Plantix Crop Advisory section you will find all good IDM / IPM practices to get the most out of each crop and each season.