Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Grow Cucumbers

Cucumis sativus, the cucumber genus (of which citron is a member), is easy to grow if you have a warm summer and can avoid insect and disease problems. Before World War II, especially in the South, people had simply given up trying to grow cucumbers because they suffered so from diseases.
Then seed companies came out with disease-resistant hybrids that solved most problems-except the cucumber beetle. As with tomatoes, there are a jillion varieties: the familiar green salad cuke, various thin-skinned pickling kinds, little yellow-colored “lemon” cucumbers, long crooked ones from Asia, the Japanese “kyuri” (which they use unpeeled), citron, and so on.
CITRON: Citron looks like a small, round watermelon but is solid clean through, with uniformly green flesh and green seed. (Don’t confuse it with the citrus fruit that resembles a large lemon and is also called citron.) Citron is eaten only pickled, preserved in sugar syrup, or candied. You can substitute citron-melon preserves for store-bought citron in fruit cakes, plum puddings, and mincemeat.
LEMON CUCUMBERS: This round, tennis-ball-sized fruit may have a few spines on the skin; just rub them off. Otherwise it’s just another cuke.
Planting and Growing
WHEN TO PLANT: Cucumbers are less hardy than winter squashes but are more hardy than melons. Wait to plant or transplant into the garden until the weather is truly warm, after the corn, at the same time that you would plant watermelon-about a week after your last frost date. (A frost would be the end for them.)
In a very hot climate like that of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, an early spring planting (February or March) and a late summer one do best. Cucumbers like a warm summer and lots of sunshine.
HOW TO PLANT: Cucumbers need well-manured, welltilled ground and plenty of water all through their growing season. We plant from seed directly in the garden around June 1, which is when we can start to trust the weather to be and stay warm here.
Cucumbers are only 55 to 65 days to maturity, so a late start still gives you time for a good crop if you have a reasonably long growing season. It’s possible to transplant cucumbers, but it’s a little risky because they don’t do well if their root system is disturbed.
So if you start them inside, do so using a system that lets you set them out in the garden in the same block of dirt in which they grew inside-little peat pots, for instance. Or plant in the garden under paper or plastic, which gives you a little extra safety as the weather is warming up.
Most people plant them in hills, 4 to 5 feet apart each way, 1 inch deep. Allow 7 to 10 days for germination, about 75 days to maturity. If you want to plant cucumbers in rows instead of hills, make the rows about 7 feet apart, and thin the plants to 12 to 18 inches apart in the row
CONTAINER AND TRELLIS GROWING: Cucumbers do exceptionally well in containers, and they produce for city dwellers even in rooftop gardens. You can fit 3 bush cucumber plants into a container the size of half a whiskey
barrel. Provide at least 3 gal. soil per plant, at least 1 foot deep, plants at least 6 inches apart. In the garden, you can
crowd them more if you give the vines something to climb up. Lane Morgan says she usually uses trellises with hers “to save space and make life harder for the slugs.”
THINNING AND WEEDING: In hills, thin to about 4 plants per hill if you have well-composted or manured soil,
less if you don’t. But don’t thin until the plants are at least 3 weeks old, because they have a high fatality rate and you may end up with too few. Weeding in your cucumber patch can be done thoroughly and with a rototiller while the little plants are at home on cucumber hill. But when they start “running,” as it’s called, with long, leafy stems covering the ground every which way that’s the end of the cultivating. You can still weed by hand, though.
WATERING: Cucumbers need plenty to drink, especially after they start making cucumbers. A cucumber is 95 percent water, which has to come from somewhere. Figure on a deep watering at least once a week. You don’t have to water every piece of ground the running vine is covering.
If you’re short of water, concentrate it near the hill where the primary roots are. Once the cucumber vines start bearing fruit, as long as you keep watering, they will keep bearing cucumbers until the frost kills them. A few vines can produce a lot of cucumbers before the summer is over.
But if you let your vines dry out badly, the cucumbers will taste so bitter that you won’t be able to eat them, and even the very little ones that have experienced such a drought will grow up with that bitter taste. So if they do dry out badly, it’s a good idea to pick off all the cucumbers, water the plant well, and let it start from scratch again.
BEETLES AND DISEASES: Cucumber beetles do their damage while the plant is young, before it starts to run. They attack the lower part of the stem and the underside of the leaves. Commercial farmers generally have more trouble with them than do home gardeners. It doesn’t take a whole lot of cucumber plants to give your family a good supply.
If you live in cucumber-beetle country, you can protect the little plants by covering them with frames over which you have stretched fly screen or mosquito netting-wooden box-type frames set into the dirt, for instance, or wire frames with the edges of the netting held down by covering with dirt.
When the plants have grown big enough to hold their own, you can store away the whole rigging for use next year. It helps control diseases if you destroy the old vines and cucumbers by burning at the end of each year and don’t plant cucumbers in the same place in your garden 2 years in a row.
If you’ve never grown cucumbers before, the best way to find out what problems you will face is to simply plant some and see what happens.
Keep picking to keep your vines producing. Pick cukes while they’re green and small for the best taste. Pick according to the size of cucumber that your recipe calls for. In general, 3-9 inches long is about right. You can actually pickle or eat any size, but cucumbers that are getting yellow and seedy are not nearly as tasty.
All you have to do once the cucumbers are big enough to suit you is gently pluck them off the vine and carry them into the house. Store extras in the refrigerator while you’re figuring out what to do with them.
Very young, tender cucumbers can be used peel and all. “Midgets” are those up to 3 inches. They go into your midget crock-a glass gallon jar will do. “Dills” are those 3 to 6 inches long. Cucumbers over 6 inches long are “slicers” to be used fresh or to make cucumber sandwiches (slice peeled cucumbers and mayonnaise on homemade bread) or instant pickles (put thinly sliced, peeled cucumbers in a salt-vinegar-water brine).
Great big cukes don’t make good pickles anyway because they get too hollow in the middle. If you’ve seen only store-bought cucumbers you may not know about yellow ones, but the life cycle of a cucumber goes like this: blossom, tiny green cucumber, big green cuke, real big green cuke, yellow cuke, brown cuke.
Yellow/ brown is the proper stage for saving seed or feeding to cows, pigs, or chickens. But some people cook the yellow ones or make pickles out of them.
STORING AND PRESERVING: Store green cukes in a basket in a cool, damp place such as your root cellar. Storing at 45-55T, 80-90 percent humidity, will keep them fresh as long as is possible for cukes-which isn’t all that long.Then you’ll need to shift to another method.
Freezing. I’ve been told that if you wrap individual servings of sliced cucumbers in foil and freeze them, they make a delicious dish that winter served unwrapped, thawed, in individual dishes. Mix heavy cream with a little dollop of lemon juice and pour it over them.
Drying. I used to think pickling was the only way to preserve cucumbers. As on many other points, my readers have educated me. Jeanne Weston , sent me a lot of advice about home-drying foods, and she says you can dry cucumbers. She has done it and says they make good salad flavorings. She thinly slices them, dries them until brittle, and stores them until needed. Then she breaks up the dried cucumber into small pieces and scatters them over her winter salad.
Recipe Ideas
RAW CUKES: Cucumbers are good raw in salads and sandwiches. Or peel and cut into sticks or chips and serve plain or with dip. Or make a gourmet salad: sharp cheese, Greek olives, tomatoes, and cukes, all chunked and tossed with raw greens and salad dressing. Or serve cuke slices with chopped onion, tomato, raw greens, and blue cheese dressing.
Boats. If allowed to grow, cucumbers will get very large- as long as 10 inches or so. Such a fat cucumber makes a fine child’s boat for the bathtub. Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and there’s your boat. You can feed the other oversized, yellowed, or imperfect cucumbers to the chickens and pigs.
When feeding them to chickens, first break cukes open. If the chickens aren’t hungry enough to stoop to cucumbers, the cukes will still make fine compost.
Sandwiches. In summer we eat lots of cucumber sandwiches, a quick lunch at a time of year when cucumbers are abundant and time is not. Peel and slice fresh cucumbers. Spread homemade bread with mayo, layer on sliced cucumbers- maybe add slices of fresh garden tomato-and top with another slice of bread
COOKED CUKES: Cukes can also be eaten cooked, as you might a summer squash, in soups and vegetable dishes. See summer squash recipes for more possibilities; you can often substitute cukes for zukes.

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