Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Garden Journal 7/21/09: Mixed Emotions
(and Growing Lemon Cucumbers from Seed)

Happy Dog and Sad Lemon Cucumber Plants

Realization of the Day:
The August mindset I've had since mid-June is going to have me very disappointed—and very hungry—once August actually arrives.

I don't know about you, but usually by the time August rolls around, my main concern in the garden is to simply keep whatever is still out there alive. It's too late to plant any of the poor spring seedlings that might be still hanging around, too hot to start fall crops yet, and pulling weeds in the ridiculous heat and humidity borders on insane. Watering is the main priority.

But if your August weather arrives a month and a half early, things can get really screwed up. Just before our heat wave struck, I put 15 heirloom tomato seedlings into a dandy new, sheep manure-filled plot I'd created especially for them. And after eight of them fried and died within days, transplanting any more of the several dozen other seedlings that still needed to go into the ground seemed like a waste of time and sweat.

I also neglected to direct seed all the warm weather veggies I never got around to starting in containers, like summer squash, winter squash, cantaloupe, and cucumbers. Just totally spaced them out. Obviously I was suffering from heat-induced brain damage, although, in my defense, we were also in the middle of putting up hay, a grueling task that takes priority over everything. (It also happened to be our worst haying season ever, as far as things going wrong were concerned, but with 744 bales of hay now neatly stacked in the barn for next winter, we've almost forgotten all the frustration and pain.)

I'm going to have to do without homegrown squash and melons this year (thank goodness for Amish garden overflow), but things are looking up in the cucumber department. I discovered these volunteer lemon cucumber vines while ruthlessly tearing out a depressing raised bed of disappointing broccoli, insect-ravaged beets, and amazingly healthy weeds.

I've been doing really well implementing my new gardening rule, and at first I was tempted to yank these sad little plants—complete with sad looking little stunted cucumbers—out. Then I remembered my otherwise cucumberless state and decided that with some sunlight and sheep manure, they might begin to flourish. If not, out they'll go.

I first came across lemon cucumbers at the Santa Rosa, California farmers' market almost 20 years ago, and I've been in love with them ever since. I asked the same question about them that everybody asks, Do they taste like lemons? No, they look like lemons. They taste like cucumbers, mild yet wonderfully flavorful. They also do really well for me here in Missouri and love to volunteer.

The Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog (from whom I've purchased lemon cucumber seeds) says this of lemon cucumbers:

Originated in 1894. The 3-inch fruits are round, pale yellow in color, with a white flesh that is easily digested and never bitter. Yields are most abundant [this is an understatement]. Also called crystal apple, the plant is drought resistant.

And the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog says:

Small, rounded, pale yellow cucumbers. Pick at 1½—2½" diameter. This versatile cucumber is sweet and flavorful, and doesn't have much of the chemical that makes other cucumbers bitter and hard to digest. Though it's often served raw, it's also a good pickling cucumber. Specialty market salad item. NOTE: Very late to begin bearing.

Baby lemon cucumbers start out nearly white and turn progressively yellower. Pick them when they're still light yellow, like these. To save seeds from your best specimens, leave them on the vine until the fruits mature—they'll be big with dark orange skin.

I usually eat my lemon cucumbers raw (you can use them in place of regular cucumbers in nearly any recipe), but I'm thinking they would make really good refrigerator pickles. Hopefully I'll harvest enough this year to make some.

And since lemon cucumbers only take 65 days to mature, I figure I'll go ahead and sow some seeds next to these plants. The August harvest is going to be pretty sparse, but we just might make up for it in September.

Ways I like to eat lemon cucumbers:
—Sliced and dipped into Herbed Yogurt Cheese
—In the Easiest Greek Salad Ever
—Tucked into Homemade Pitas with onions, tomatoes, & ground lamb
—With Grilled Lamb Burgers with Garlic and Feta on Rosemary Focaccia
—Alongside Greek Style Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Oregano & Lemon
—Blended up in a refreshing batch of Gazpacho (cold vegetable soup)

Are you a lemon cucumber lover? Got any growing tips, stories, or favorite ways to enjoy them?

© Copyright 2009 FarmgirlFare.com, the self-seeding foodie farm blog where thankfully the temperatures have finally dropped (to below normal even!) and a big, beautiful storm has spent the day showering us with a couple inches of very much appreciated rain. Everything (and everybody) is perking up—and I've actually been getting stuff planted!


  1. Hi Farm Girl!!

    I have a question for you related to my garden. we have had unseasonably cold and wet weather up here in chicago and i had two of my beautiful pink heirloom tomato plant wilt and die almost over night. I checked some clippings and it doesn't seem to be a fungus or bacteria... have you ever had this happen from too much cold or too much wet? I pulled the two plants (which just about killed me) in case it was something catchy.

    anyway i love your blog and am super jealous of your warm weather right now.

  2. Hi there, been lurking for awhile, love your blog.

    We TRIED to grow lemon cucumbers for the first time this year. Unfortunately the plants came up, looked great, then died.....sigh. Maybe next year, you've got me thinking they'd be worth another try!

  3. I never grow lemon cucumber, thanks for introducing it to me, I will try it next spring.

  4. Yes, by husband LOVES lemon cukes and has been eating them all his life so they're a staple in our tiny kitchen garden.

    I've found that planting them in with my corn works well - by the time the weather gets hot enough to hurt them, the corn is providing partial shade, and they're very happy. Since they spread out, they provide nice root shade for the corn, along with my squashes.

  5. Ah, Santa Rosa. Ah, lemon cucumbers. Ah, random heat waves that threaten to wipe out all your hard work.

    I hear ya, sister.

    I just picked 7 lbs of lemon cukes over the weekend and made 4 1/2 quarts of pickle chips from them.

    Simply awesome.

  6. I love 'Richmond Green Apple' cucumbers. They're very similar to the Lemon but light green, oh so crisp and just the right size to eat out in the garden. Only one made it this year but I have high hopes that it'll produce something, even though it was planted oh, so late.

    I also am doing a 6 plant trial of 'Mexican Sour Gherkin', which is actually supposed to taste like a cucumber with a lemon twist. Sounds lovely, but they were also planted very late. The plant leaves and tendrils are so petite and sweet. If they taste good they'll be engaged for a return performance next year.

    Oh, I bought both of my seeds from 'Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds'. http://rareseeds.com/

  7. BEEEAAAAR!!! He looks happier than your plants at the moment. But I'm sure they'll perk up. How could they not, with nice manure surrounding them? Always perks me right up.

    I've never grown lemon cucumbers. We just have some generic variety of pickling cucumber at the moment, which is producing quite enough cucumbers for me and my pickle addiction. Maybe next year I'll try the lemon variety.

  8. Look at this! I Love your blogS farm girl!! and seriously I could use looking at those photos for a change ..enough dust storms and sands in Kuwait.. my inlaws have a farm upper side of Kuwait and its lovley , but it goes all yellow and dry during summer.. we're talking 120F everyday!

    I'm happy to have found you!

  9. The heat has been awful. We haven't had heat as much as simply dry. My new rain barrel has sat nearly empty for weeks now. Maybe tonight...

  10. Even on the Canadian west coast we have had a very dry, hot summer to date!!

    I love love love lemon cucumbers. Either on sandwiches or whole, like an apple.

  11. Hi there, love your blog!

    I LOVE lemon cukes - and have been growing them for a couple of years.

    Last year I made some yummy refrigerator pickles with them. However, they ended up being softer than the pickling cukes. Don't know if those are typical results or not. But even without the crunch, they were still darn tasty. :)


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