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Tasting Strange Cucumbers

This was a fun week, because we got to harvest the first of our “not quite normal” cucumbers and give them a taste.

First up was the ‘Tondo Liscia Manduria’ cucumber, which is Italian. As you can see it was round with some stripes. The seeds were already starting to develop inside, so we had to scoop them out.

You can see that the actual flesh part is relatively narrow. The flavor was mild, sweet, and cucumber-like, although the texture was much more like a melon. I suspect it would get more melon-like if we let it stay on the vine longer.

The other cucumber that was ready for a taste test was the Poona Kheera (aka Puneri) cucumber from the Indian Garden. Yes, it is brown, kind of like a potato. We actually harvested three, each at a different stage of maturity.

White-skinned but still large stage. The seeds were already at the “annoying” stage. These are clearly not seedless cucumbers!

Yellow-skinned, and slightly larger seed cavity.

Brown-skinned with an even more aggressive seed cavity.

None of them were bitter, although they had a much more aggressive cucumber flavor than the Italian cucumbers. The skin also got progressively tougher, which shouldn’t be a surprise either.

Both of these varieties are “heirloom” cucumbers, and one of the common characteristics of older varieties is that the seed cavity tends to be much larger. Small seed cavities are one of the things that have been commonly bred for in modern hybrids. It is something to be aware of when you start trying these strange varieties!

Flowers on the Cucumbers

Just in time for our Saturday Sampler this week, some of the cucumbers in the garden are starting to bloom. Of course, we were hoping there might be some actual cucumbers by this weekend, but they have been a little bit pokey.

This is the ‘Tondo Liscia Manduria’ cucumber-melon that is in the Italian/Vertical garden. It hasn’t really started to vine yet, but it is blooming. Most of these blooms are the male flowers, but do you see those tiny, fuzzy, green blobs? Those are the buds of the female flowers getting started.

I’m going to guess that this first flush of flowers probably won’t result in more than one, maybe two cucumbers. Most of the flowers are male, and the timing might not work out to pollinate the female flowers once they open. It is very common for this to happen with the first flush of flowers, so if you are starting to see flowers on your cucumbers but no cucumbers yet, just be patient and wait for the flowers to sort themselves out.

Thinning Seedlings

I think one of the hardest gardening tasks is thinning out seedlings. It is too easy to just let it go, because you are so excited to see the plants growing, and then everything is an overgrown, tangled mess that you can’t thin out. That’s one of the reasons that I try really hard to space things out when I plant the seeds. However, that doesn’t always work out.

On our trellises for growing vining vegetables, we usually want no more than 2-3 plants per side of the trellis. It seems like so little when you are planting just a few seeds, but planting too many can be a disaster later on!

You can see that there are at least 5 plants along this trellis, and I think there may have been another one or two that I didn’t get in the picture. Even though these plants will be growing up the trellis, if we left all of the plants in place, they would be so thick that we could have problems with diseases – especially if this hot, humid weather keeps on.

We removed all but 3 plants from each of the trellises, which will still be plenty thick by the time the plants are full grown.

2014 Garden Plans: Bed 3 – MG Favorites Garden

In amongst all of the crazy things that we have planned for some of the other gardens, this one may be the island of sanity. We wanted to feature some vegetables that are favorites of our Master Gardeners, so we took nominations and chose our varieties from there. We wanted to chose varieties that are common and widely available to the average gardener as well. Bed 3 (2)

As you can see, there’s nothing too crazy going on here! (Wait until we get to Bed 4 for that!)

Tomatoes – ‘Jetstar’ and ‘Juliet’ are two very common, popular and productive varieties in this area.

Basils – ‘Sweet Italian’ and ‘Cardinal.’ Sweet Italian is what everyone grows, and we loved the ‘Cardinal’ basil so much a couple years ago that we wanted to try it again.

Cucumbers – ‘Straight Eight’ and ‘Sweet Burpless’ are slicing type cucumbers that are very productive and flavorful. They will be grown on one of the trellises.

Spring/Fall Spinach/Mesclun/Radishes – Under the trellis, we will have a spring and fall planting of ‘Bloomsdale’ Spinach, mesclun mix, and ‘French Breakfast’ Radishes.

‘Beananza’ bean is a variety that one of our Master Gardeners has had great luck with. She has had them produce from June until October, so we are hoping for a similar result!

Peppers – We are going back to the ‘Big Bertha’ bell pepper that has been stupendous in the past, as well as a Cayenne pepper for something a little different but still very productive.

In the spring, we will be planting ‘Scarlet Nantes’ carrots, ‘Detroit Dark Red’ beets, and ‘Parris Island Cos’ romaine lettuce, as well as Yukon Gold potatoes.

In the fall, we will plant a blend of leaf or Bibb lettuces, the ‘Watermelon’ radishes, and ‘Grand Duke’ Kohlrabi. The potatoes will be followed with a yellow snap (wax) bean variety, ‘Rocdor.’

In a lot of ways, this looks a lot like some of the “Family of 4” gardens that we used to do. Believe me, as I look at the rest of our plans, I’m hoping this garden is going to be the easy one!

2014 Garden Plans: Bed 1

We had the first of our subcommittee meetings yesterday to work on the planning for Bed 1. I don’t know what I’m going to call this garden, because it is really three different parts all in one. One end is the Vertical Garden, the middle part is Quinoa, and the other end is a Spring/Fall Italian Garden. Maybe I’ll have to nickname it the Conglomerate Garden? The Motley Mixed Garden? The Heterogeneous Garden? The Italicalnoa Garden? The Quinicalian Garden? I’ll take nominations!

Bed 1If you recall, this is the raised bed that has the two, 4’x4′ more raised areas in the center. Those two sections are where we will plant the quinoa.

Italian Garden  

The Italian section of the garden features spring and fall vegetables, with the intention of exploring what there is beyond tomatoes and basil, the quintessential Italian foods. We had a lot of fun perusing the Seeds from Italy catalog and website and trying to find the best choices for different types of vegetables. As you can see, the spring plantings include  several types of greens, beans, and cippolini onions. The beans are a shelling type called ‘Lingua di Fuoco’ which translates to ‘Tongue of Fire.’ The pods have bright pink streaks!

There are lots of types of chicories to choose from, including plain chicory, endive, escarole, and radicchio. We chose a couple “Italian Dandelion” varieties of chicory to try, an endive/escarole mesclun mix, and a red radicchio/chicory for the fall.

We also will have Tuscan Kale growing all year. Sometimes the Tuscan type is called Dinosaur Kale, Nero di Toscano, or similar names.

We are going to try a bulbing variety of fennel in the fall to see if it will produce, as well as some purple bunching onions.

Vertical Garden

We are continuing to demonstrate some of the vertical gardening techniques, and the trellis/arbor over one of the walkways was such a hit last year that we decided to try it again.

‘Tonda Liscia Manduria’ Cucumber is an Italian cucumber melon that is fairly small, round, and has fuzzy skin. It tastes like a cucumber when young and ripens to taste more like a melon.

‘Escorial’ Melon is a Charentais-type melon. It is earlier maturing and hopefully will be less crack-prone than the heirloom Charentais melon.

‘Small Sugar’ Pumpkin is a pie pumpkin that produces sweet, 4-6 lb pumpkins. I’m looking forward to pie this fall!

Quinoa

Quinoa is a Chenopodium, which means that it is going to look a lot like lambsquarter/goosefoot when it starts growing. The flowers/seed heads are supposed to be beautiful colors, which we are all looking forward to. Depending on how hot it gets for how long this summer, we may or may not get a seed crop, but it should be interesting to try growing it! We chose the ‘Brightest Brilliant’ mix and ‘Colorado’ and the two varieties to try.