Thanks for the additional replies. To answer the question about disease, I gave an infected leaf to a master gardener friend who took it to a university. The professor looked at it under the microscope and said it was a fungal disease, but not the common powdery mildew. The symptoms looked more like a bacterial wilt (starts with yellow spots which turn brown around the edges and expand until the whole leaf dies, then the stem, etc). I tried plucking the leaves at first sign of infection but the remaining healthy leaves eventually got the disease too. And as mentioned, the copper fungicide spray just didn't kill the disease (maybe it works better as a preventative measure than a way to eradicate it once it is established).
Based on all the input here, I think I'm going to try the following:
- Plant LATE (in July for Atlanta, as suggested)
- Plant further apart for better airflow (and perhaps make a small brush pile for the vines to climb)
- Plant in a different area
As for hard-stemmed varieties, I believe only butternut squash fits that bill and I REALLY want to grow melons and winter squash. But again, while friends have had vine borer problems, I haven't so I'm going to knock on wood and keep trying.
Lastly, on the topic of roof-planting, I had some Vietnamese neighbors who used to grow some sort of strange cucurbits over a lattice that was built over their deck. The vines climbed all the way up from pots on the deck and formed a 100% leaf cover over the deck along the lattice. They had a bumper crop every year and it looked great. I'm guessing having the vines up high like that increased airflow which helped with the disease. However, this was when I lived back in Oregon, not Georgia, so the problems/solutions may be different. Since I'm trying to go more permaculture/sustainable, a man-made lattice goes against that so that's why I have been thinking about a brush pile instead. It should probably last for a good couple of years before decomposing into the soil. My only concern would be weeds growing up through the brush pile. I have noticed that weeds around the cucurbits will cause a LOT of moisture to be held in the air on and around the cucurbit leaves which encourages disease.