Vine crops perfect for Las Vegas climate

There are not many things more mouthwatering as a fresh cantaloupe on a hot summer night. And they’re even tastier coming from your garden.

The Las Vegas Valley has one of the best climates to grow melons and other vine crops, as we call them. They are sun worshippers, something we have plenty of in our valley. Here are some tips on how to grow them. You have until the end of June to plant them.

I’m giving a seminar on melons and other vine vegetables at 1 p.m. every Saturday in April at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd.

To be successful, you must work lots of organic matter, bone meal and soil sulfur into your soil. If you have bad soil, grow them in raised beds or pots filled with enriched organic manufactured soil. Remember to periodically fertilize them to keep them producing.

Melons: Cantaloupes, muskmelons, watermelons, crenshaws, honeydews and casabas are included. You are in for a real treat if you’ve never grown your own. Grocery store melons never really have the taste you dream about. When they’re your own, you’ll harvest them at their peak.

Melon varieties are numerous, so search the vegetable seed racks or order them, because you still have time. Melons need lots of space, but we now have bush types to select from that will work for containers.

Pumpkins: These Halloween favorites need lots of space. If you have children, large varieties are fun to grow for jack-o’-lanterns. Your pumpkin pies will be sweeter and tastier.

To get big pumpkins, work lots of organic matter into the entire area where you plant them. The friable soil allows the vines to root down as they crawl along to make bigger pumpkins.

Cucumbers: Cukes are a must for salads and relish dishes, and the vines really beautify the garden. If limited on space, put them on a trellis or plant bush varieties. If you grow Armenian cucumbers, wait until it’s warmer to plant.

New cucumber varieties are now available, which produce more female flowers. Normal cucumbers produce about 15 male flowers to one female flower. This frustrated gardeners, so plant breeders evened the males and females out to get higher yields. Keep them well irrigated, because stress can make them bitter.

Squash: There are two kinds: summer and winter squash. Summer squash (crookneck, straight neck and zucchini) come in many varieties, and they’re prolific. The immature, shiny fruit is waxy to the touch and has soft edible rinds.

Winter squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti, Hubbard and buttercup) are allowed to mature until skins harden and color develops. You can store these squashes for long periods. Depending on the variety, they take about 90 to 120 days to mature. They require lots of space, so plant them in your garden corners or along fences.

Squash blossoms are edible, raw or cooked and considered a delicacy. You batter and fry them in a little oil for that delicate taste sensation. Harvest only male blossoms, unless you want to reduce squash production.

Male blossoms are easily distinguished from the female blossoms. The stem of the male blossom is thin and trim. The stem of the female blossom is thick. At the base of the female flower below the petals you’ll find a small bulge, which is the developing squash.

Summer and winter squash can cross with one another. However, cross-pollination isn’t evident in the current crop, but may express it if you save seeds to sow next year. Squash does not cross with melons or cucumbers.

Vine crops are the camels of vegetables. They prefer deep irrigations and then go a long time before the next irrigation.

GARDEN CLASSES AT THE PRESERVE

On Saturdays and Sundays throughout April, something is always happening at the Springs Preserve. At 11 a.m., learn about the friendly bugs to control the bad bugs. At 1 p.m., learn about melons and vine crops that will whet your palate on those summer nights. At 2 p.m., learn about cactuses with flowers beyond description. At 3 p.m., learn to schedule your irrigation system to make each drop of water count this summer.

WHAT’S BLOOMED IN MARCH

If you wanted colorful plants during March, here are some that were in bloom at the preserve: autumn sage, brittle bush, bush morning glory, cassia, desert marigold, dog weed, guara, globe mallow, gopher plant, knife-leaf acacia, lavender, penstemons, rosemary, Texas mountain laurel, tufted evening primrose and Valentine plant.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@springspreserve.org or call him at 822-7754.

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