Thursday, June 14, 2007

Gardening Adventures- Cucumbers

I have decided to pursue gardening this summer with the hopes that I will reap several benefits. The first point of this exercise is to have a beautiful yard and deck and to hopefully have some delicious vegetables and herbs. I have grown a few tomatoes and herbs in the past, but this year I am going to be more adventurous. Gardening is also good exercise and I actually enjoy getting my hands full of dirt from time to time. I also think gardening will be a good way to try and slow down a bit, since you cannot rush how fast your plants will grow.

I am mainly using containers on and around my deck for the vegetables and herbs since my two large German shepherds have pretty much claimed the rest of the backyard. I do have a large flower garden in the back that surrounds a beautiful dogwood tree, but the plants have to be fairly hardy to withstand the dogs and their obsession with the squirrels.

My first new vegetable adventure is a large container of Straight Eight cucumbers. I have 12 plants in a mixture of organic soil and compost. I planted them when there were just seedlings, but the plants are already getting quite large. I may have too many in one container. They are in full sun for most of the day and they are getting watered every night. My research on these plants suggests adding some fertilizer when the plants start to blossom and give fruit. According to most accounts, cucumbers are pretty easy to grow and should give fruit all summer long.

On Burpee’s website there is a suggestion to grow the plants on trellises to maximize space and to increase the yield, so I may see if I can find or build some small support structures to put in my pot. Cucumbers are susceptible to various bugs, disease, and fungus but I plan to use a homemade spray I make out of neem oil if any problems arise. Neem oil is quite effective to keep pests at bay, but is an organic substance that will not harm mammals. I never use any type of chemicals in my yard because of the dogs and I do not want to pollute the water table anymore that it already is.

Apparently this variety is best picked when the cucumbers are 6-8 inches long, and harvesting should encourage more fruit production. I am planning to share quite a bit if I have a good harvest since cucumbers do not last long in the refrigerator. I actually hate pickles so I won’t bother using that type of preservation technique either.

My favorite way to eat a cucumber is make a Benedictine spread to serve with crackers or other fresh veggies. Everyone has a similar recipe but this is how I like to make it…

1 fresh cucumber- peel and grate, remove some liquid in small colander
Package of cream cheese- softened
1/8-1/4 of a white or yellow onion- depending on how strong a flavor you want
Dollop of mayo- fresh is better
Dollop of sour cream
Salt/Pepper to taste
Add fresh dill, basil, chives to change up the flavor a bit
Blend everything in a blender or food processor and serve

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