Sunday, October 05, 2014

Cucumbers.... unsung heroes of my garden

So I have to admit.... I was not a huge fan of cucumbers growing up.  I can remember my mother making cucumber raita and tomato cucumber salad/koshimbir and I wasn't crazy about either of them.  I thought raita made cucumbers taste slimy (because they pretty much shred the cucumber so when you mix it with the yogurt its looses its crunchiness) and when she added cucumbers to tomatoes I thought it diluted the taste of tomatoes in a perfectly good koshimbir (onions and cilantro add to the flavor but cucumbers detract a bit). I mean I did eat them but it left me with a aversion for cucumbers. It never would have occurred to me to grow them myself. However a few years ago some friends of ours were talking about their bumper crop of cucumbers, and I realized that there are three other people in my house who all eat cucumbers. So I started growing them for the rest of my family but ended up finding out that I actually like cucumbers. Honestly if one thing gets consistently eaten by every member of my household its cucumbers, which is an absolute bonus. Not only does everyone eat them but they also don't get tired of them easily. We can eat them daily and I don't get many complaints.

 A few things I have learned to appreciate about cucumbers

1)They are so easy to grow vertically!!! Just train them for the first 2- 3 weeks by tieing them up onto the trellis and then just let them run.

2)Great for gardens with limited space. I have grown 6-8 plants in a 1ft by 4ft section.... up a trellis of course. When you think about how much space tomatos and eggplants take up (which are some of my favorite summer veggies).... this is an incredibly efficient use of space.

3)They keep going an going and going. I did one set of succession planting with my cucumbers and now it is the beginning of October and I am still getting a few cucumbers a week (the picture at the beginning of this post was taken on October 1st.) 

4) They are great for school/summer camp lunches. No peeling or scrubbing like carrots and while I wish I could just throw cherry/grape tomatoes in their lunches only one of my children actually eats tomatoes and she can sometimes get picky about only eating the red grape tomatoes (which are determinates and have a short season). Also unlike kiwis and sometimes berries I don't have to worry about them getting mushy when they get to school.

5)They can be fun to grow.  I do enjoy training cucumbers up the trellis. I like fussing over the individual vines and showing them how to climb the trellis. Once they were going I had fun with these Heart and star Vegetable molds.  I used them on the cucumbers and they really worked out well.

6) There are some easy fun cucumber recipes. For me to enjoy growing these I had to find a way for me to enjoy eating them. My absolute favorite thing to do with them is refrigerator pickles, (I am still experimenting to find the best recipe but we are getting close). Here is probably my favorite article on refrigerator pickles.  Here are some other recipes which I enjoy:
Cucumber Yogurt Salad with Feta and Dill
If I do make Raita or Tzatziki I make sure I cut the cucumbers into chunks. (I like making Tzatziki with mint).

Seed Source for the varieties I grew this year:
Heirloom Straight Eight Cucumbers by Burpee (Found this in a clearance bin)
 Sweeter Yet Hybrid By Burpee
Burpee Pickler Hybrid By Burpee

A few notes on the varieties I grew. The pickler is truly an early variety and is consistently the first to fruit. By the end of the season though it had crosspollinated with my Heirlooms so I got these hybrid, they were still good. The heirlooms have a tough skin so they have to be peeled otherwise my kids eat the other two varieties straight no peeling. I love love love the sweeter yet hybrid variety, everything I need in a cucumber... they can get pretty huge and still retain good flavor.

Next year I'd like to try these cute little cucumbers and see if my kids will eat them.

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