Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cucumbers: A Saga

I decided to take a break from tomato plants at the beginning of this year, partly because they had attracted an impressive infestation of spider mites the year before and the area probably needed a break from tomatoes. The other part was because I wanted to try a different type of plant in containers: cucumbers.

A helpful little pollinator

Cucumbers are a pretty cool plant to learn about. To start off with, cucumbers are a type of plant that can self-pollinate, but have distinct male and female flowers on the same plant. I didn't know this at first, and assumed that the flowers I was seeing bloom and then immediately die and fall off of the plant were failed cucumbers. They instead turned out to be the male flowers, which are the first to bloom on a cucumber plant. Later a mix of male and female flowers appear, with the female flowers having what are basically baby, unpollinated cucumbers attached to the back of them. If the flower isn't pollinated, or isn't pollinated well (apparently?) then the baby cucumber shrivels up. If it is pollinated though, then that part becomes the cucumber after the flower dies off.

Here you can see a female flower in the foreground
with a male flower in the upper right

Speaking of which, I now have SO MANY CUCUMBERS. I did not realize that three cucumber plants is way too many cucumbers for two people to consume before they go bad. I'm literally giving them away to neighbors and coworkers and still have enough to put in my lunch every day.

Seriously though, I'm eating a cucumber as I'm typing this.
Maybe I can try pickling them?

The first few were really bitter, so I did some more research to figure out why my cucumbers were basically coming off the vine inedible. It turned out that cucumber plants produce something called cucurbitacin which is normally found in the leaves but migrates into the skin of cucumber fruits when there's inconsistent watering. I'm not sure why...but that definitely explained it- the weather had been unusually hot that week and I'd come home to wilted cucumber plants a few times. From then on it was a half gallon to a gallon of water a day. Each. That means I'm dumping a total of three gallons on my cucumber plants alone in hot weather. Yeesh. Well, they are mostly water after all. I found out that even if a cucumber is bitter, peeling the cucumber takes the bitter skin off of it and the inside tastes just fine!

I'm glad I trellised these. Much more space for cucumbers to grow!
In a couple of weeks the cucumbers will probably be done fruiting and start to die off. I bought "Straight 8's" which are one of the types that loads you up with cucumbers for a month or so and then gives up the ghost. I'm thinking I'll plant lettuces as a fall crop in the buckets. Maybe mix in a few flowers for earlier in August... I'll miss my natural porch screen though! It shades some of my other porch plants a bit too much currently, but it does provide a nice cool place to relax when I get home from work!

People walking by ask me if these are pumpkins.
 I'm like "Nope, just ginormous cucumber plants."

No comments:

Post a Comment