I have had pretty good luck growing pumpkin and winter squash, and terrible luck the last couple of years growing cucumbers. I want some cukes this year, so I decided to try some techniques that Steve Solomon advises in his book Gardening When It Counts.
You get some paper towel squares, fold them into quarters, and then dip them in a bowl of tepid water, letting most of the water drip out of the towel. Then unfold the towel, and along the fold lines place your seeds that you want to presprout, or chit. Chit 3-4 seeds for every one finished plant you want. I did this with cuke, pumpkin, and winter squash seeds, but you can also use this technique with bean and pea seeds as well. Then fold the damp towel back into quarters, and place it in a ziplock bag that you seal shut. Label the bag with a permanent marker with the name of the seeds inside, and put them somewhere somewhat warm for about three days. Then start checking the seeds twice a day after that. You will see a little sprout coming out of the seed. This is what will turn into the root.
At this stage you can plant the chitted seeds outdoors in soil that’s been prepared and watered a day or two before, because once you put the seeds in the ground you do not want to water until the seed sends its stem up through the earth. You’ll want to prepare a very fertile soil for these plants. To do it, pick a spot in the garden that’s been weeded, and dig it up to loosen the soil. Then dig in about a 1/4 inch of compost and 4-6 quarts of a good complete organic fertilizer into a 100 square foot planting bed–obviously reduce the fertilizer quantity if you are preparing a smaller bed. Then you are going to create a really fertile hill in which you will plant your chitted curcurbit seeds. To do this, dump a couple of shovelfuls of compost in a spot, along with a cup of complete organic fertilizer, and dig this into a 12 to 18 inch area. The center of this is where you will plant your chitted seeds, 2-3 per hill, and then thin to the one best plant as the grow and mature.
Curcurbit seeds need warm nighttime temperatures for the plants to grow well, so wait until it’s at least 50 degrees at night on a consistent basis before planting these types of seeds out; with melons, peppers and eggplant, it needs to be 60 degrees at night. This year we were lucky and it warmed up to the 50′s at night sooner than usual, but it’s usually not warm enough in garden zone 8 to plant these things until June sometime. Getting up to the 60s at night is a different matter, however. Since we are almost never consistently that hot here, I usually grow those plants under plastic with pvc pipe hoops to hold the plastic off the plants, and have had good success in this way. This is a bit of work though, because you will need to cover the plants at night, and then open the plastic during the hot day temperatures.
You will want to put something in place for the cukes to grow up rather than sprawl on the ground. Two metal fence posts with a string grid can work, or wooden or metal trellises also are good. Pumpkins and squash that put out long vines can be kept more compact by spiraling them around the center stem on the plant, and then holding it in place with metal garden staples.
I will let you know how it worked out this year. I am at the stage where I am checking my seeds in bags twice a day, and hope to plant out in my prepared hills anyday now!