Thursday, March 26, 2009

CUCUMBERS: What do they want?

If I could grow one plant only it would be a cucumber.  Cucumbers are my favorite food.  I like them cold, or at room temperature, fresh or pickled, skinny or round.  I love to dip them in yogurt or hummus, slice them into salads, eat them with sweet butter and bread.  This is very good food, indeed.
The plant is short lived so you may need to grow more than one.  Better yet, plant one or two now, and then fresh plants in early summer and again in late summer.  Keep them well watered but not swamped to avoid bitterness.  A little mid-day shade works, too, though they can take full sun.
There are many varieties of cucumbers and most people prefer the type with no seeds.  These are also known as 'burpless'.  To achieve a seedless cucumber though required a certain magic that you pay for when you buy the seed or the fruit.  The most expensive seed we buy is for the cucumber plant Rocky.  I think it is worth is.  The cucumber is a Persian type with delicate skin, minimal seed and a sweet, crunchy flavor.  We planted some late in the summer in the greenhouse in five gallon tubs and had a cucumber a day from each plant til Thanksgiving.  
Another favorite for garden growing in Suyo Long.  This is a Chinese variety that has a slightly drier texture.  The skin is rough but edible and the flesh is crunchy.  Left on the ground, they can grow a little curly; on a trellis they are straighter.
Diva is a hybrid plant developed by Johnny's Selected Seed.  It incorporates all the best features of the Japanese and English cucumber and produces dramatic fruit on a substantial plant when trellised.  The flavor is terrific and it is easy to grow.
Lemon cucumbers look like lemons, though I don't taste any lemon in the flavor.  These do well in smaller containers (3 gallon or so) and, if picked small, are very sweet and flavorful.  If you let them get too big, they develop large seeds and are a little bitter.  Their fans are very devoted.
The Armenian and the Mexican Sour Gherkin cucumbers are not really cucumbers; rather, they are members of the melon family.  You need a lot of nighttime warmth to grow the Armenian types.  The Mexican Sour Gherkins is tiny, about the size of a quarter, and has a sourness that is very refreshing in summer salads.  We grow ours in small hanging bowls and pick as needed.
If you only want a cucumber like the waxed kind you find in the grocery store, you will probably be better off buying them at the grocery store.  If you want fresh, sweet, crisp cucumbers with unique flavors and textures and delicate, edible skins, then try growing your own.  You may become addicted.

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