Thursday, February 25, 2010

Growing and Selecting The Most Edible Cucumbers

Gathering cucumbers was one of my least favorite farm activities. It was always done in the early morning while the dew was still on the green leaves. These leaves hid the desirable little cucumber s and small animals that had spent the night hiding there while having a delicious cucumber meal. We treaded lightly through the long rows making lots of noise. Occasionally we were chastised for saving undesirable specimens that would not sell at the market.
"That ain't fit to eat. You put another in there and I'll make you eat it. If you don’t get the small ones off the vine you’ll ruin the whole harvest. That one is almost ripe! These ain’t tomatoes! They gotta be picked long before they ripen.” He threatened us by cutting one of the over large yellowing cukes open and displaying the overgrown hard seeds. This demonstration and tone of voice was enough for me. The smaller ones were tastier anyway. The large over ripe ones were put aside for the farm animals.
At the market, each farmer dumped his cucumber crop into a large sorting machine. It separated cucumbers according to size. Think of all the different sized pickles you have seen in the supermarket, they were separated by that machine. Cucumbers that are sold in the supermarket sometimes fall into the category of the ones we gave to the animals. Long into his old age my Dad complained that the produce in the market was not fit for human consumption. He detested the waxy substance that is sometimes added to the outside to prolong shelf life. He never ate the peelings or skins. He taught me that one need not squeeze the cucumber to make the best selection. “Just pick it up, he ordered.” He suggested that the skinny firm ones with no scars or bruises were the best. "Bigger is not the best," he insisted. "All you're getting with the big one is the seeds. They should have been fed to the hogs instead of all them hormones they give'em."

To this day, I reject the over large, soft, damaged on the outside cucumber. If there are no young firm ones, I do not buy any that day. He was right after all. The over ripe ones rot in the refrigerator faster and the large seeds are not as palatable as the young firm ones with tiny juicy seeds.
in season, I grow my own. The hybrid bush varieties are great for suburban gardens. They grow quite well in containers and along fences. They may also be trained to grow on tomato cages or in hanging baskets. They germinate quickly from seed when planted in full sun. Young plants may also be purchased from plant exchanges and green houses.
Seeds: Purchase drought and disease resistant brands. Burpee has a disease resistant 60 day variety that is also considered a bush cucumber. Poinsett is a heavy yielder, disease resistant , and it produces well in the south. Salty hybrid is an early breed that matures in 50 days. China longs are my favorite. The grow on a trellis and grow to a length of two feet.
Soil: Well drained soil. Loves raised beds, because of moisture retention during hot dry spells. Medium textured soil, not to light and sandy or too heavy. When the soil is too sandy, dry hot spells will dry up in midsummer months. Heavy wet soils retard root growth and can lead to fungus and disease problems causing plants to produce later in the season.
Pests: Two species of beetle pester cucumber plants. They are the spotted one and the striped one. Later plantings help ward against them, after they lay eggs. Equal amounts of wood ashes and hydrated lime mixed in two gallons of water makes an effective spray. Do not allow this mixture to coat the leaves of the plant. Marigolds should be Companion planted in with the cucumbers. The beetles don’t like the smell.
Organic materials: Produce more when organically fed. Ground up cottonseed, dried blood, dehydrated manures, bone and fish meal. Aged manure should be worked into the soil before planting. It feeds the plants and helps retain moisture during the hot spells while keeping the soil porous. Dad used to make a fist and shove into the soil up to his elbow and grin. It was a good thing if his whole arm went into the earth with little or no resistance.
Rotation: Loves to be planted after clover or beans.
Planting Season: Any time in May after danger of frost is past. My father always planted on the moon. He used the Farmer’s Almanac religiously. This always turned out to be mid-May. Plant seeds one inch below the surface to prevent rotting and encourage germination from warm spring sun.
Cultivation: Begin when plants are three inches high. Remove weeds and keep the soil loose around the plants in order to promote growth. Stop cultivating when the vines are about 18 inches long.
Trellis: The plants will grab onto almost anything you place in or around them. I used tomato cages. Be careful of the shallow roots. Pull any weeds by hand from this point on.
Early germination: For an earlier harvest simply cut the bottom out of a plastic milk jug and place it around the heal of planted seeds. Check your almanac or listen to the weather forecasts so you can put the lids on the jars if frost threatens. My Dad used glass jars, but I never perfected the task of removing the bottoms. (He simply sat the bottom in boiling water for few minutes and then quickly placed it in ice water.)
Harvest: Six to seven weeks after planting little cucumbers begin to appear. Watch them closely because they grow very quickly. Pick them quickly and often in order to promote the plants to produce more. For juicy little pickles, pick when two to six inches long. For salads and larger dills, pick when six to ten inches long.
Soil Cultivation: My Dad always prepared the soil in the fall after harvest was done. He said the land had to be prepared for winter. “The Lord made winter to freeze the land and kill all things that could harm the spring crops, and he made spring to thaw, mellow and loosen the subsoil.” In the spring he did what he called “turn the soil over about 8 inches deep. The manure placed on the ground in the fall would then be thoroughly mixed into the land.
Tools for Suburban Gardens: Hand tools are cheapest and all that is necessary: a good spading fork, a round pointed-spade, a garden rake, hoe, and a three-or four-prong cultivator. I have a large wheeled, hand pushed-cultivator that is pushed between the rows for cultivation. Smaller gardens do not require this. A small tiller can be used in larger gardens. For raised beds, containers and along fences hand tools are sufficient.
Container Gardens: Cucumber bush varieties grow very well in large pots on patios or in the yard. The long vine varieties grow well in hanging pots and outdoor window boxes.
Kid friendly Recipe: My granddaughter’s favorite veggie is the cucumber. She likes it peeled and marinated in Italian dressing.

Food uses: soups, pickles, salads. Only 8 calories in and average serving.
Beauty Uses: On eyes to treat dark circles, facials. They are 90% water so are used to hydrate the skin.

St. Ives Moisture Therapy Lotion, Cucumber Melon & Vitamin E, 18 Ounces
Therabath - 2340 - Pro Hot Paraffin Wax Skin Therapy - Cucumber Melon - 14 in.

The cucumber is a fruit and (Cucumis sativus) is a widely cultivated plant in the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, which includes squash, and in the same genus as the muskmelon.

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