Cool as a cucumber! That is what the gang at Wicklow Way is trying to keep in mind, as we repetitively get slammed with hard rain in high quantities. At this point in the season, with summer only a few days away, we have transplanted almost all of our plants into the field from our greenhouse. The cucumbers and squash went into the ground by the row full, starting last week when my good friend Alicia came to visit and volunteer for a day at Wicklow Way! It was perfect timing to have the help of extra hands to put the plants, who were over growing their pots in the moist soil. However, in the meantime, the farm has received an exponential amount of precipitation, and because we are so close to Lake Ontario, we have a low water table, leaving us with plenty of puddles in our fields. Our worries are surrounding the cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant as they have sensitive roots systems and prefer a dry hot quality of growing.
Cucumbers are part of the cucurbitaceae family which also includes squash, pumpkins and melons, and can be vines or bush varieties. These frost sensitive plants are transplanted when the soil has significantly warmed up, and the air is humid and the sun shines 8 hours a day. Cucumbers take only 55 to 60 days from planting to picking, so they grow fast and rigorously. To assist their growth, we plant the cucumbers under a sheet of black plastic to keep the moisture in the soil, the roots nice and toasty, and to suppress the weeds. And for additional attention, we cover the beds with floating row cover which is a light white fabric, to allow the sun and rain in, however keeps the pests out. There are many bugs that attack the cucumber plants and will quickly eat the leaves down to the stem, or demolish the flower, leaving the plant unable to produce the gorgeous long fruits.
Cucumbers range from standard American cukes to small lemon-shaped heirloom types, from long, thin oriental cucumbers to seedless and disease resistant cultivars. Cucumbers have a long history of cultivation and were first grown as a crop in India. The fresh summer fruit dates back as far as 2400BC in Greece and Egypt, eventually reaching the Mediterranean, and became part of the delicious dip known as tzatziki. In England, cucumbers were dubbed ‘cowcumbers’ and fed to livestock. Different varieties have different characteristics, such as the thickness of their skin and the amount of seeds within. Plant breeders are continually tweaking cucumber genetics to combine desirable characteristics, including mild flavour, productivity and disease resistance. Wicklow Way grows cucumbers under the names of Babylon, Marketmore, Corentine, Lemon and Picolino; which I am most excited to see develop. Apparently Picolino is a perfect 4 inch snacking cuke with thin skin and a sweet flavour. I was first introduced to Lemon cukes while working on Golden Rocks Farm in California. These adorable yellow cukes are spherical, about the size of a golf ball to tennis ball and have a citrus like flavour. They are amazing for snacking and a very prolific grower. Jamie and I made gorgeous pickles by slicing the yellow Lemon cukes with green and alternating the colours in the jars, with lots of added dill, mustard and garlic. It isn’t always known, but you can pickle any type of cuke. It is best to harvest the cuke when it is the right size to fit in the jar, but because they grow overnight, it can sometimes be difficult, so it is best to cut them into spears or slices. Pickling is the easiest thing, so anticipate cuke season and try to jar some of your own!
Tips for growing your own crispy cukes:
Prepare the soil: well drained, light fertile soil. Lots of compost, manure or organic matter.
Give plants a head start: although seeds can be directly sown into the garden, its best to start them inside, however be delicate with their roots when transplanting.
Defend against cucumber beetle: As mentioned previously, we cover our crop with white fabric to battle beetles. Remove the row cover when the plants start to bloom to allow pollinators to gain access.
Let them climb: the cuke vines are content growing along the surface of the soil, but give them a structure to scramble upwards for their pleasure. The fruits with receive more indirect sunlight, allowing them to avoid white patches and will also grow straighter fruits if left to dangle.
Harvest early and often: smaller fruits usually taste better and have soft immature seeds that are easier to digest and won’t cause gas!
So if you haven’t experienced something other than an English slicer from the grocery store, keep your eyes peeled for new varieties of cucumbers and bite into a juicy cool fruit!