Cucumbers have been around for a very long time. The book of Numbers in the Old Testament refers to cucumbers being consumed by the Israelites in Egypt."We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick"
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the United States ranks fifth in the world in cucumber production, behind China, Iran, Turkey and Russia. Here in the U.S., the USDA Economic Research Service lists Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina as the top three producing states. In 2012 the per capita consummation of cucumbers in the United States was 7.7 pounds for every man, woman and child.
These are one of the easiest plants to grow; they have been grown 1 mile under the ground in a mine as well as hundreds of miles up in outer space. They may be directly sown into the soil; however I prefer to start my seeds indoors and transplant outdoors after the soil has warmed to between 50-60 degrees. I like to use a fertilizer with lower nitrogen and higher amounts of phosphors and potassium such as a 5-10-10 or 6-12-12.
They adapt very well to growing in containers, a milk crate lined with landscape fabric and potting soil is a perfect way to grow bush cucumbers. One point that I can't stress enough is to PICK, PICK, PICK! Once the fruits begin to mature it is very important to harvest every day. You'll be amazed how quickly cucumbers mature, if not picked regularly the plant will shut down production in order to let the fruits on the vine mature.
Cucumbers are classified into two types: slicing and pickling. There are also two types of growth habits that gardeners may choose: vining and bush type. The vining types adapt very well to vertical growth and will produce very well when grown on a trellis or other support. The bush type as the name implies are a very compact plant that grows low to the ground.
The slicing type is further divided into the Midwestern variety which has a thinner skin and is "burpless". The Oriental type introduced in the mid 1950s originates from Asia and is thin skinned with a few spines on the outer skin; it is also said to be burpless.
The pickling variety as the name implies are smaller in size and used for a variety of pickle products. Gherkin pickles are immature pickling cucumbers. They are small, usually only an inch or two in length.
There are also varieties which I classify as novelty varieties, such as 'Lemon' which is small, round and, pale yellow. If you would like to make some pickles that will attract attention try the 'Mini White' pickle. Introduced in 2013 this hybrid variety has received rave reviews about its delicious taste. It has a very thin skin and is also an abundant producer.
Let me share some of my favorite cucumber recipes with you.
I've been making these for years not even sure where the recipe came from I believe it might have been in a Taste of Home magazine. They will keep for up to 3 months in the fridge but believe me, they won't last that long.
Three Hour Refrigerator Pickles
6 pounds cucumbers
4 medium onions
4 cups sugar
4 cups vinegar
1/2 cup salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon mustard seed
Slice the cucumbers 1/4-inch thick. Slice onions 1/8-inch thick. Place both in a large nonmetallic bowl.
Combine remaining ingredients; pour over cucumbers and onions. Stir well for 5 minutes. Cover and refrigerate 3 hours before serving.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, stirring occasionally.
Makes about 2 1/2 quarts
This is one of my all-time favorites; be sure to make plenty while cukes are in season.
I have also been using this recipe for years, I beleive it was given to me by a neighbor; these are delicious.
Old Time Bread and Butter Pickles
4 pounds pickling cucumbers
1 large onion, quartered, sliced about 1/4-inch thickness
1/3 cup kosher salt
3 cups cider vinegar
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds
Wash cucumbers and cut off the ends. Slice crosswise into 1/8-inch slices. Toss in a large bowl with the salt and onion slices; cover with about 4 to 6 cups of ice cubes. Cover and let stand for 4 hours or refrigerate overnight.
Prepare the boiling water bath. Add water to a large canner with rack and heat to about 180°. The water should be high enough to be at least 1 inch above the filled jars. I usually fill it about halfway and I keep a kettle or saucepan of water boiling on another burner to add to the canner as needed. Wash jars thoroughly and heat water in a small saucepan; put the lids in the saucepan and bring almost to the boil; lower heat to very low to keep the lids hot.
Drain the cucumber mixture in a large colander and rinse with cold water. In a large pot (nonreactive) over medium heat, combine the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the drained cucumber mixture and bring to a boil. With a slotted spoon, loosely pack the vegetables in prepared jars. Ladle the liquid into jars, dividing evenly among the jars. With a clean damp cloth (I keep a little bowl or cup of the boiled water handy for this step), wipe away any drips around the rims of the jars then cover with 2-piece jar lids. Adjust the screw on rings firmly. Place filled jars in the prepared boiling water bath, adding more hot water as needed to bring the water up to about 1 inch above the jars. Bring the water to a boil. Cover and continue boiling for 10 minutes. Lift the jars out of the water and place on a rack to cool.
Makes about 6 pints.
Photo Credits: National Gardening Bureau
As you begin to plan your 2014 vegetable garden, be sure to plant some cucumbers!