Pickling cucumbers

Most pickle recipes call for a large number of small pickling cucumbers, which contain less water that slicing (English) cucumbers.  If you have an excess of slicing cucumbers, though, they’re suitable for pickle recipes in which the cucumbers are sliced rather than left whole.  I’ve prepared the following recipe using a mixture of pickling cucumbers that grew too big, and Straight Eight or Marketmore cumbers, and they’re always a hit.

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Dill sandwich slices

  • 3 tbsp. pickling spice, placed in a piece of cheesecloth and tied off to make a bag
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup coarse salt
  • 5 large bay leaves, or 10 small
  • 5 cloves garlic, or 10 small
  • 2 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 5 heads (flowers) fresh dill
  • 13 cups cucumbers

Trim the ends off the cucumbers, as well as the peel on two opposite sides.  Cut them into 1/4 inch thick slices, so that each slice has peel on its thin, long sides.  If the cucumbers are quite long, you may need to cut them again lengthwise so they’ll fit in your jars (and on a sandwich).  Place in bowl of cold water to keep them crisp.

Prepare 5 canning jars and lids according to the instructions for your specific canning system.

In a large saucepan, mix vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spice bag.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Boil gently for 15 minutes.

In the bottom of each hot jar, place 1 large or 2 small bay leaves, 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 head of dill.  Pack cucumber slices in jars to within 1/2 inch of top.  Ladle hot pickle juice into jars.  Use a table knife or similar implement to remove air bubbles; add more liquid if needed to reach 1/2 inch of top.  Clean rim, centre lid on jar, and screw band on to fingertip tight.

Place the jars in the canner and process, covered, in boiling water for 15 minutes, then uncover the pot and let the jars sit in the water for another 5 minutes.  Remove jars to cool on the countertop.  After you have verified that they’ve sealed (listen for the pop!), store them in a cool, dark location.  Let the pickles sit for a few weeks before you try the, so the flavour has time to develop.

Plant of the week: Cucumbers

Cucumbers are around 95% water, but they’re a decent source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium and fibre.  They’re also one of the lowest calorie fruits (yes, fruits!).

Ideal growing conditions

Cucumbers like heat and water, and rich soil with a pH of around 6-7.  Start your seedlings indoors.  A couple of weeks after the last frost, prepare a site for them in the sun, or in a sheltered spot (if the heat in your area is extreme–they don’t like to be scorched).  Build a mound of compost that is about a foot wide and a foot deep.  For vining varieties, refer to the instructions to see how much space they need between them (typically each mound will need to be about 3-5 feet apart).  Bush varieties will need less space.

Vining varieties require support in the form of trellises, fences, or stakes.  These also help to keep the fruit clean, and reduce pests, such as cucumber beetles (see that yellow and black-striped guy in the middle of the photo?).  You may wish to mulch your plants with straw to reduce pests such as the aforementioned beetles, and slugs, neither of which like straw.

To encourage stronger growth, you may wish to cut the tip of the vine after a half a dozen leaves have formed, and also after it’s reached the top of its support.  The plants will form both male and female flowers.

Ensure that you water your plants regularly, but avoid getting the leaves wet, as this can lead to disease.   If the weather is too hot or cold, or plants do not get enough water, the fruit may be bitter.

Types

  • There are two types of plants: vines and bushes.
  • There are a few types of fruit:
    • Pickling cucumbers are picked when they are around 2 inches long, and used for sliced pickles.  They have less water content than slicing cucumbers, and tend to get bitter if allowed to grow larger.
    • Dill cucumbers are used for dill pickles.  They are picked when they are 4-6 inches long; otherwise, they are similar to pickling cucumbers, above.
    • Slicing cucumbers are eaten fresh, and occasionally pickled.  They are picked when they are 6-8 inches long.  They have a higher water content and more pleasing flavour and texture than pickling cucumbers.
    • Burpless cucumbers are sweeter than the above varieties, and have a thinner skin.  They are nearly seedless.
  • Cucumbers can be green, white, yellow, or striped.
  • Some varieties of cucumber, such as the Spacemaster variety shown above, can be used for pickling or slicing.

 

Harvesting, using, and preserving

Carefully twist the fruits off the vine when they reach the size indicated above.  Don’t let them get yellow; they’re best when uniformly green and firm.  They will keep in the fridge for a week or so.  Keep the fruit picked, or else the plants will stop producing (they are really good at hiding under their canopies of leaves!).

Cucumbers are excellent in salads, soups, smoothies, and even for facial applications!  We will feature some pickling recipes later this summer.

Friends

  • Beans
  • Cabbage family
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Dill
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Tomatoes

Foes

  • Sage
  • Potatoes

Fun facts

  • Dill and cucumbers get along in the pickle jar and in the garden; dill attracts insects that feed on the pests that feed on cucumbers.
  • Cucumbers are believed to have originated in the northern sub-Himalayan plains of India.

Stages of plant growth: Cucurbitaceae

In a previous post, we mentioned that we would illustrate the lifecycles of various vegetable plants.  We’ll start with the Cucurbitaceae family.

Here’s a few plants that have sprouted their primary leaves.   They look pretty similar except for the size of their leaves–and the acorn squash’s leaf is a bit more pointed and veinier than the others.

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Cantaloupe, spaghetti squash, and acorn squash

The cucumber seedlings look similar too, which isn’t surprising, since they all emerged from a similar type and shape of seed, which you can see still attached to the leaves on the right.

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Cucumbers

But what about this?  The birds planted this one.

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Sunflower

We’ll update this post once the plants have their secondary leaves, and start to look a little different from each other.

Growing vegetables in hot, dry conditions

Following are some tips on how to encourage a productive garden during a hot, dry summer:

  • Choose varieties that mature quickly and produce smaller fruit.
  • Lay your garden out so that plants that need similar amounts of water are grouped together.  Raised beds retain more water than open beds.
  • Plant in groupings or hexagonal offset patterns rather than rows so that the leaves can provide shade.  Space plants 1.5 to 2 times further apart than usually recommended to provide plants with access to a larger area from which to draw moisture.
  • Sow tall plants, such as corn and tomatoes, on the south side of heat-intolerant plants such as leafy greens, to provide them with shade and lower the temperature.
  • Add large amounts of organic compost to the soil; this helps trap moisture and encourages deep roots.
  • Apply a thick layer of mulch to the soil to prevent moisture loss and keep the soil cooler.  This will also help prevent the growth of weeds, which compete with your plants for water.  You can use natural materials such as grass clippings, straw, dried leaves, pine needles, or shredded bark.
  • Water plants heavily when they are very young, and producing blossoms or fruit.  During other times, they can do with less water. Use drip hoses, which direct water into the soil, rather than spraying the plants from overhead where it is wasted on the leaves.  Water in late evening and early morning.
  • You can place shade cloth over the south sides of eggplant, pepper, and tomato plants.  This will reduce the temperature by 5-15 degrees and may prevent sunscald.  Plants like peppers and eggplants may produce less during a drought, but they will still produce.

Avoid planting these vegetables

Vegetables like peas, brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, etc.), and leafy greens like cold weather, so they won’t do well in the heat of summer.  You can try planting them in the early spring or late fall, when the heat is less extreme.

Do try these drought-tolerant vegetables

  • Amaranth
  • Artichokes – Jerusalem and globe
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Chard
  • Chickpeas (I made the mistake of overwatering these and they started to germinate in the shell!)
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cowpeas
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Melons
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Oregano
  • Peppers
  • Rhubarb
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Squash
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Thyme
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon, especially the sugar baby variety

The great zupumpkin!

In one of my first small gardens, I planted a pumpkin plant and a zucchini plant next to each other.  I didn’t save any of their seeds, but the next year, when I spotted a pumpkin plant coming up from the compost, I let it grow.  It started out looking like a bit like an elongated pumpkin or some sort of squash.  Then it ripened to the above specimen, which was christened the zupumpkin.

Cross-pollination

Cross-pollination occurs when an insect or the wind carries pollen from one variety of plant to another.  The resulting seed, when planted, sprouts a hybrid of its parents.  Since zucchini and pumpkins are both varieties of the same species, they can create the zupumkin (or zumption or pumcchini–your choice) but a cucumber and squash can’t procreate because they’re different species.

Cross-pollination does not affect the current year’s crop, but rather the next year–with one exception: corn.  If the pollen from the tassels of one variety of corn are blown into the silks from another variety, the cob that develops is a hybrid.

Self-pollinating plants

Vegetables like beans, peas, peanuts, eggplant, peppers, lettuce, and tomatoes are self-pollinating. Their seeds will produce plants like the parent, but insects will occasionally cross them, so if you want to be absolutely certain that your seeds will grow true to type, plant each variety at least 10 feet apart.

Insect- and wind-pollinated plants

Vegetables that are pollinated by insects or wind need to be separated by variety, and grown a distance apart (the distance varies with each type of plant).   To ensure that your seeds grow true to type, grow one variety of each type, or separate the different varieties.

Vegetables that willingly cross-breed

The following plants or plant families are prone to cross-pollination.  If you are planting them with the intention of keeping their seeds, keep varieties well separated.

  • Beets and Swiss chard
  • Cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, and broccoli
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Honeydew, cantaloupe, and other melons, excluding watermelons
  • Peppers (hot and sweet)
  • Squash (some varieties)
  • Zucchini and pumpkins