NZ Woman's Weekly

Cool as a cucumber

Cool as a cucumber

I don’t think I’ve ever grown cucumbers before, and I probably wouldn’t have done so this year either were it not for the fact that I didn’t have my glasses on when I bought what I thought was a rock melon at the garden centre.

I didn’t take much notice of it until the other day when I was trying to disentangle its tentacles from the peppers, and noticed it was hiding dozens of cucumbers under its leaves. If it had been a rock melon, I’d have been happy indeed. Still, the cucumbers are most welcome and it’s gratifying to see a plant doing so well.

I read somewhere that cucumber vines usually yield around 10 cucumbers, but we’re well past the 20 mark already, and there are at least as many on the way. I’m crediting the four bags of disgusting, gluey, foul-smelling chook poo manure

The Partner dug into the garden a few months back. I think ours is a Lebanese cucumber, and I’ve since discovered that, had I not thought I was buying a rock melon, I could have chosen from about a dozen different kinds. But regardless of type, the growing requirements are pretty much the same.

Pickled cucumber

Cucumbers can be enjoyed fresh or pickled

Although cucumbers have a climbing habit, most varieties are better grown along the ground, particularly in regions that enjoy warm to hot summers. It makes for fruit that are less water-stressed and likelier to be tender and juicy.

Sun is a must, as is regular watering, and your plants will also thank you for well-rotted manure or compost as well as some kind of potash. Many varieties tend to spread but you can find more compact types that are better suited to an urban garden.

Like many plants with big, gorgeous leaves, cucumbers are susceptible to fungal diseases. Good air circulation around the plant helps, and it also pays to try to keep the leaves dry when you’re watering. If you do discover mildew, mix a teaspoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent in a couple of litres of water and spray the leaves thoroughly every couple of days.

Harvesting time for all but pickling cucumbers is 10 to 12 weeks after sowing, and with most varieties you’ll be picking for several weeks. If you live in an area where it’s warm, it’s not too late to plant them now, so get one or two in quick smart and you should get an autumn crop.

VARIETIES

SPACEMASTER
This variety is great for containers in small gardens. The slender green fruit has a great fresh flavour.

ARMENIAN
With long, pale green, ribbed fruit, this variety is popular for its taste.

LEBANESE
This type seems to work for people who say they don’t really like cucumber. They’re small, slender and thin-skinned, with crisp, mild flesh and a small seed cavity.

LEMON CUCUMBER
Another heavy producer, this bears round, lemon-coloured fruit with crisp, non-bitter flesh.

MARKETMORE
This has cylindrical fruit with a crisp texture and a mild flavour.

GREEN GEM
A productive, standard green variety that’s mildew-resistant and has good texture and flavour.

CHINESE LONG GREEN
You’ll need a trellis for this one. It has long, smooth, green fruit.

CRYSTAL APPLE
This prolific variety yields fat, white-skinned, oval fruit.

GIANT RUSSIAN
Another generous producer, from this you’ll harvest large, yellow, acid-free fruit.

KYOTO
This cucumber loves to wind its way up a trellis and rewards green fingers with long, smooth fruit.

PARISIAN PICKLING
Otherwise known as Vert Petit de Paris, this is a classic French pickling cucumber that grows tiny fruit that’s ready for picking and pickling in 60 days.

GHERKIN NATIONAL
This is a reliable variety for those who prefer larger pickles.

PATIO PICK
Ideal for a small garden or for growing in pots, this often bears around 25 fruit per vine.

Crystal-Apple cucumber variety

‘Crystal Apple’ is a prolific variety that yields fat, oval fruit

A FRUIT OF MANY TALENTS

Cucumber and yoghurt go together like a horse and carriage, which may be explained by the fact that cucumbers originated in India. They’ve been cultivated for at least 3000 years, so perhaps it’s not surprising there are so many varieties and they’re so easy to grow – we’ve had centuries of practice.

Many other dishes work well with cucumber. Smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches are a delight, as is the yoghurt and cucumber dip tzatziki, the Greek dish similar to Indian raita. When I visited Greece years ago my favourite lunch was a bread roll squirted with olive oil and filled with cucumber, olives, feta and tomato. Then there’s Greek salad, cucumber soup, bread and butter pickles…

Greek salad

THE HUGEST HARVEST

For the past 10 years our beautiful but clumsy cat has slept in a vintage cane basket on top of the CD cabinet. It’s quite a leap to get up there, and lately she’s been missing the mark and embarrassing herself by having to make a mid-air turn followed by a crash landing on the sofa.

I decided to remove the basket, so she’d no longer be tempted to try her luck, and was standing on the lawn pondering what to do with it when I had an idea. I’d use the basket to collect the 30 million plums on the plum tree and, confronted by the bounty, would be motivated to make plum jam, sauce and chutney.

It’s difficult to get excited about standing over a pan of boiling fruit when it’s 30ºC, so the basket remained on the courtyard table, until I had another idea. Eight guests were coming for a barbecue that night, so I would supply bags and ask them to help themselves to as many plums as they’d like to take home.

Plum basket

I figured plastic bags would ruin the look of my plums in their whitewashed basket, so I bought some charming paper bags and voilà – a generous gesture, a gorgeous table decoration and a guilt-free way to get rid of the plums.

The basket will remain on the table for other guests to help themselves till it’s empty. Then I’ll fill it with cucumbers and beans, both of which are threatening to overtake the house.

Lee Ann Bramwell

About Lee Ann Bramwell

Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.

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NZWW Dec-22-2014-issue

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