CUCUMBERS

CucumbersIt’s November and fall weather has finally arrived here in Inland North County. Our organic vegetable gardens are packed with delicious nutritious veggies for our residents at Sunshine Care, A Memory Care Community in Poway, CA.

I really get excited in November because we start harvesting all of our fall favorites, such as lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and kale. We continue to plant these on a weekly basis to have a continuous supply for the kitchen to incorporate into the daily menus. But as our gardens start to fill up with cool season crops, we finally have to say goodbye to our warm season stars such as tomatoes, squash, peppers, green beans and cucumbers.

We harvest around 1,300 lbs of cucumbers from May through November. They are a major player for the kitchen staff and are unique in the fact that since we do not pickle our cukes, the highest quality must be grown for fresh market consumption as is our lettuce. So we need a continuous supply on a weekly basis and our planting plan allows us to make it happen.

For our needs, we plant about 50 row feet of cucumbers every 3 weeks, starting the first of March through the end of August. This subsequent planting procedure has worked well for us over the years and a strategy for the home gardener to incorporate in your home production. It’s nice to have crisp, tasty cucumbers for your salad every week, so plant a few cucumber plants throughout the entire growing season that Mother Nature allows in your area.

In our Horticultural Therapy and Intergenerational Gardening Club, local pre- schoolers and home-schooled children, alongside with our residents, seed cucumbers in our greenhouse. The seed is large enough for easy manipulation and quick to satisfy the urge to watch something grow quickly. I mentioned that every 3 weeks we fill a 50 foot bed with transplants placed at 12” apart. At that time we sow 50 plus cucumber seeds in our greenhouse. In 3 weeks the transplants will be ready for the next crop of cucumbers in the garden. The timing is perfect!

Throughout spring, summer and fall if you check out our gardens, you generally will see a freshly planted row of cukes, a row that is in peak production and one that is winding down. Cucumber plants bear fruit on a creeping vine that usually can be staked or trellised. The spiraling tendrils grab hold of the structure and creep up vertically, potentially growing up to 6 feet. We do not stake our cucumbers, but opt to allow them to sprawl on the beds. We prefer to get in and out of the row without going through the process of staking. This minimizes damage from pests, such as aphids and diseases, such as powdery mildew and downy mildew, and is less labor intensive. One of my keys to organic veggie production is to get in and out quickly before problems have a chance to establish and require spraying.

Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) have been around for over 3,000 years and originated in India. They are a member of the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae and brought over to Europe by the Greeks or Romans. They surfaced in North America in the mid 16th century.

There are basically three groups of cultivars –

Slicing – These are grown to be eaten fresh in their unripe green form. Allowed to grow to full maturity, they turn yellow and are bitter to the taste. In the U.S. markets, they are smoother, more uniform in color with a slightly bitter tasting skin. In other countries, slicers are smaller with a thinner skin.

Pickling– These cultivars are used for pickling for a longer shelf life. They are shorter and thicker, more irregular in shape and with spiny bumpy skins. Gherkins are a classic example.

Burpless- These are sweeter with thinner skins. They tend to be more pleasant in taste and easier to digest. They have less seeds and can grow up to 2 feet in length.

We grow 2 slicer types, Corinto and SV4719CS from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and 2 burpless types, Tasty Jade from Johnny’s and Summer Dance from Territorial Seed Co.

Corinto- This organic hybrid produces very dark green, uniform, 7-8” fruit despite cool and hot weather. It is very vigorous, early and very productive. It is also powdery mildew resistant.

SV4719CS- Along with being powdery mildew resistant, this variety has improved downy mildew resistance. It produces straight dark green fruit with good vigor. The 8” long fruit are attractive, uniform and flavorful. With downy mildew resistance, harvest can be extended for a couple extra weeks.

Tasty Jade- This early, slender Japanese type is vigorous and produces glossy, thin-skinned, 11-12” fruit. They are crisp and delicious. It is also resistant to powdery and downy mildew.

Summer Dance- This is a crisp and delicious variety. It’s probably my favorite variety we grow with very uniform 9-10 inch fruit. This popular Japanese burpless type is very productive and heat tolerant. It is also resistant to powdery and downy mildew.

Early in the year, we use white floating row covers to heat up the soil and get the plants to grow faster. Once flowers start to form, we take off the covers and let the bees do their thing.

In the heat of summer, we cover the rows with black shade cloth to get the plants established and again remove for pollination when flowers appear.

Eating cucumbers may lead to many potential health benefits including weight loss, balanced hydration, digestive irregularity and lower blood sugars. They are loaded with water and contain many important vitamins and minerals.

So add cucumbers to your gardens and enjoy this refreshing, nutritious and incredibly versatile addition to your diet.



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