Cucumbers, squash, watermelons, muskmelons, summer squash, winter squash which includes pumpkins, and gourds are all in the Cucurbitaceae family so:
- Can a cucumber cross with a pumpkin?
- Can my summer squash cross with pumpkins?
- Can my watermelon cross with my muskmelon?
With such a huge family of related plants, how does one keep them from interbreeding so I can save seeds? Would I have to hand breed and put a barrier on each plant I wanted to keep seeds from to keep them pure? Panic set in as I can’t keep my garden weeded let alone hand breed each member of the cucurbitaceae family. I began studying hand pollination and breeding. Now I probably could breed members of this family by hand but I don’t want to. I don’t have time to do them all. So how can I do as little as possible to get what I want?
- First I chose my favorites in this family.
- Then I began looking into what genera and species each were in as I learned they don’t cross pollinate between them.
- What ones would I grow every year such as summer squash and cucumbers. Plus what ones I could rotate years grown and freeze or can the produce so I could enjoy other years I didn’t put it in my garden.
With this information I had a foundation in which to form a plan. Keep in mind that cucurbitaceae is shortened to cucurbita in many articles so I will refer to it in that manner from here on. Remember that it is the seed that determines the characteristics of the crop and plant. So if pure seed is planted next to close relatives, the plant and crops will be true to the parent. But that summer the flowers will flirt with cousins and the mating of which will produce seeds inside those perfect fruit that will a combination of the plants mated. The fruit the next year will be a mutt. It might be wonderful or horrible.
Butternut squash is (cucurbita moscha). It is one I buy often from the store as I love it fried with onions. I tried growing it once from seed, but it failed. This year, I might try starting the seeds indoors and enrich the soil more. Hopefully it will make it though 105 days is a lot in my garden zone.
Buttercup squash is (cucurbita maxima) so it could be grown with butternut squash with no cross pollinating.
Rouge Vif D’ Entampes or Cinderella pumpkin as it is nicknamed is (cucurbita maxima) so I can’t grow buttercup and this pumpkin in the same year without hand pollination and protection to keep the seed pure. But since squash seeds last for 4 years, if kept properly, I could rotate years I grow them and therefore they would not be in the same garden at the same time.
New England Sugar Pie is (cucurbita pepo). This is the same as naked seed pumpkins and summer squash of which zucchini is in this group. That is a problem. So this plant would need to be hand pollinated to keep seeds pure, because I grow summer squash every summer.
Naked Seed pumpkins are (cucurbitas pepo). I have flirted with the idea of growing naked seed pumpkins as I love the seeds but they take about 105 days and even if started in the house, may not make it. I will have to think on it as summer squash and New England Sugar Pie are also pepo.
Summer squash and zucchini are in the (cucurbita pepo) and they cause a problem as I grow them every year and they are cozy with the relatives guaranteeing something will have to be hand pollinated.
Gourds may be part of the (cucurbita) and (Lagenaria) family so you will need to check the specific type you are growing. I myself do not grow them.
The Cucumber is (cucumis sativus). So no fear growing them every year but different types of cucumbers will cross so to save seed, I will need to either hand pollinate or switch the types of cucumbers I grow each year to save seed. That means one year I grow 1 type of cucumbers suitable for pickles and the next 1 type for slicing. Since I have several I really like in each category, this will take some thought.
Watermelon are (Citrullus lanatus). So no fear of them crossing with cantaloupe or anything else.
Muskmelon such as cantaloupe are (cucumis melo).
With this information in hand, I will now formulate a plan for crop rotation and hand pollination. I’ve needed to do it for years.
This plan will save labor and money. It won’t be perfect and will need adjustments. Mother Nature will throw me curve balls but at least I have a base to return to. I will have a plan.
Do you have a plan for your squash family? Please share.