Taste Testing

Spacemaster, White Wonder, Adam F1 cucumberCucumbers are here, dear readers!

Any worries about planting three Spacemasters (pictured, top) to one 5-gallon(ish) tub have been allayed (for now). Several farmstand-worthy cukes have already been produced and several others are busy ripening.  Burpee kindly included a packet of “free” White Wonder (pictured, lower right) heirloom seeds in POD’s ridiculously large seed order and they’re looking pretty darn good, too. And finally, Seeds of Change’s Adam F-1 (pictured, left) is going nuts. Absolutely nuts. It seems to be the thirstiest of the bunch, but the sucker’s fruiting like bunnies.

And so, a taste test is in order. The Spacemasters scream CUCUMBER — which is to stay, the dark, thick-skinned, 7-8″ fruits look and taste pretty much like those cucumbers you buy in the supermarket. Very good, but nothing particularly special.

The White Wonders have a very dense and rather dry flesh. The 6″ fruit has a very mild flavor. Some (say, POD’s co-taster) might say it’s “bland and squash-like.”

Better living through chemistry, it seems. The little 4″ Adam F-1 is juicy, citrusy, floral, and tastes like something way fancy.


repurposed tomato cages, melon trellisLast year plants on deck used tomato cages as a trellis for cucumbers and melons. While it seemed genius, it wasn’t, perhaps, an unqualified success as the 2010 cucurbits did sorta’ so-so. (Not enough air circulation, perhaps?)

It seems silly to waste the investment; so last year’s cages were snipped and spread open to provide large surface areas for the Adam F-1 Cucumber, Orange Hybrid Melon (to be called C. Borealis from here on out, thanks Bethysmalls), and White Wonder Cucumbers to roam. The sharp edges were turned to help train the vigorous vines and to help protect a certain accident-prone gardener. (One whose motto is: “if you haven’t bled on it, it’s not a success.”) An excellent use of unused garden crap, right?

Yeah, there are two C. Boreali in one pot — likely a mistake — but someone couldn’t bring themselves to snip out the oh-so-healthy vine.

Where There’s Smoke

Aphids and AntsThere’s sure to be a fire.

In this case, long trails of ants paint a smoky trail to the real hot menace: aphids.

By themselves, ants don’t pose all that much of a threat. Sadly, this rarely means one can rest easy. Nature, the wonderful beast that she is, always has a plan. You see, ants like to feed on the sweet stuff (honeydew) that aphids excrete — which means the army ants protect the aphids from natural predators. Which means lots of aphids.

Lots of aphids means that great quantities of sap is slurped from leaves, leaving them curled, dessicated, and unhappy. As if that isn’t enough, aphids may also contribute to the spread of cucumber mosaic virus.

Ants and Aphids
Hi, I'm an aphid. Click on my picture. It's worth it to see my antennae and cornicles.

So, yeah, it’s important to get rid of the sap suckers.

The best method for removing aphids (supposedly) involves spraying the leaves with a steady stream of water to wash the aphids and honeydew from the leaves. Unfortunately, the little blue deck isn’t reachable by hose. Ladybugs love to eat aphids, but you could count the ladybugs this urban garden sees on your fingers.

So what’s a container gardener to do? These buggers, which may produce up to twelve off-spring per day, are tenacious. So, try fighting fire with fire.

POD’s Pest Potion:

  1. Combine 1 c. stems, seeds, leaves, flowers of thyme, lavender, and yarrow (handily, all are grown on or around POD) with
  2. A couple of tbs of coffee grounds
  3. Allow the herbs and coffee to steep for 24-hours
  4. Strain the solution, discarding or composting the herbs
  5. Add 1/4 c. milk to the solution and 1 tbs. natural dishwashing solution, castile soap, or Neem oil
  6. Pour the potion into a spray bottle
  7. Shake
  8. Spray the infected plants thoroughly, making sure you hit the undersides of the leaves

Next year, try planting chives, basil, mint, or marigolds alongside the cucubmers and melons to discourage infestation in the first place.

Cucumber Obsessions

Female True Lemon Cucumber
Lady Lemon

May and early June are the happiest weeks on deck. Everything looks hale and hearty and the diseases, fungi, and mildew have yet to descend. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

These Happy Cat true lemon cucumbers are full of blossoms and in years past, POD simply trusted bees to do their pollinating thing. Alas, that didn’t work out so well last year. We had a few cucumbers, but not nearly enough. Cucumbers that aren’t pollinated properly will not mature or will develop into misshapen, malformed fruits.

Male True Lemon Cucumber
Hey, Handsome

To produce healthy cucumbers, the pollen from the male blossom needs to make its way to the female flower. Sounds easy, but when your city garden lacks the required bee presence, you’ll need to lend a hand. Many gardeners use the paint brush trick, but after trying out both methods, POD’s found that applying the male blossom directly to the female appears to be more productive and efficient. Male True Lemon Cucumber Pollen

Simply pluck the male flower from the vine and gently pull the petals back, exposing the pollen-y center. Carefully touch the center of the male flower to the center of your female flower.

Await the cucumber. Hand Pollinating True Lemon CucumberHand Pollinating True Lemon Cucumber

Tie Me Up

cucumber climbing
cucumber climbing

It was a decent idea, one supposes, to attempt to use tomato cages to support the Boothby Blonde’s and True Lemon’s growth. Unfortunately, there may be a reason they’re called “tomato cages” and not well, cucumber trellises.

Apparently, the slick metal rods don’t provide the inviting support that the cucumbers’ curly tentacles require. So, once again, yards of jute twine have been introduced.

These Boothby Blondes have been lifted and separated and her arms are already grabbing on to their new supports.

Some More Seeds

The great debate continues. Should cucurbits (cucumbers and melons) be direct seeded in early May, or should they Happy Cat Cucumber Seed Packetsbe started indoors three to four weeks before the frost-free date? (Which, in POD’s case, is April 20thish.)

Philadelphia doesn’t exactly count as a “colder area of Pennsylvania”, but light begins dwindling on the little blue deck by the end of August so a head start seems like a good thing. If you have the luxury of full sun through September, you might want to go for the direct seeding.

And, because these heat lovers like it hot, POD will patiently, yes, patiently, wait until three true leaves have formed and outside temperatures are reaching the 70s. In other words, they probably won’t hit the deck until May — about the time the Philadelphia County Penn State Cooperative Extension recommends direct seeding.

Death by Powder

Well, thank goodness POD’s cucumbers were just about ready for retirement.  They survived a minor case of leaf spot and random blight but powdery mildew did them in.

powdery mildew
powdery mildew

It’s not a surprise, really. Temperatures have cooled and light has waned: a perfect recipe.

Unfortunately, the Minnesota Midgets have also been touched. Because there are at least six melonettes ripening, the most affected leaves have been snipped and the rest drenched in a dripping coat of Neem.

disease-stunted lemon cucumber
disease-stunted lemon cucumber