As mentioned in my last column for 2012, this garden season I am conducting a trial of cucumber varieties that have white, cream, or brown skins. Until this year my interest in cucumbers other than green had been limited to the Boothby Blonde variety, a 60-day heirloom cuke grown for several generations by the Boothby family of Livermore, Maine. For 2013, I wanted to expand my experience with heirloom cucumbers of a different color and chose the 8 different varieties described below. After realizing that our garden would not have in-ground space for all these vining plants, I decided to conduct the entire trial in 3-gallon nursery pots.
All 8 varieties were started from seed sown indoors in May. In early June, 3 transplants of each variety were placed in a 3-gallon pot. The 8 pots were placed outdoors, each pot against a trellis to support the vines. The pots were watered daily unless it rained. Nutrients were applied when needed to offset excessive leaching of nitrogen from the pots.
This variety performed moderately well in this trial, although yields were not as high as in past seasons when I grew them in the ground. I rank it fourth in total yield to date, behind Dragon’s Egg, Miniature White, and White Wonder. The cream-colored fruits are mild and sweet, best picked between 4- and 6-inches long. The fruits have tiny black spines that easily rub off as you harvest them.
The history of this heirloom cuke is obscure, but it gets rave reviews from those who have grown it. Like Boothby Blonde, It is a white-skinned cuke with tiny black spines. The fruits acquire a blush of yellow as they mature. Production on bush-type plants begins early in the season, only 50 days after sowing, and the plants seldom spread more than 3 feet, making them ideal for container culture. Although Miniature White is promoted as a pickling cuke, it is delicious eaten right off the vine.
This variety seems well suited to container culture. Production in my trial started early, second only to Dragon’s Egg, and it continues to produce several fruits each week.
Originating in China but popularized by an Australian seed company in the 1920s, this cucumber looks like a pale white kiwifruit, about 3 inches in diameter. The flavor is sweet and mild, the skin so tender that you can eat the fruits without peeling. Introduced to America in 1930, Crystal Apple has become rare in contemporary gardens.
Crystal Apple has not performed well in container culture this summer. It started producing later than Dragon’s Egg and has yielded only a half dozen harvestable fruits so far.
A Croatian heirloom cuke, Dragon’s Egg’s fruits are cream colored and about the size of a large egg with a mild, bitter-free, sweet taste. This variety was the first to produce harvestable cucumbers and continued producing through July and August. Along with Miniature White, this variety heads the list for pot production.
An heirloom cucumber introduced in 1894, Lemon has been described as a specialty variety prized by discriminating chefs for its delicate flavor and crunchy bite. The fruit is round, white skinned with yellow streaks, and should be harvested between 2 and 3 inches in diameter. In my container trial they have been small, less than 2 inches in diameter. This variety began producing later than the other varieties and has produced only a few fruits through July and August. It is not a variety that I would recommend for growing in pots.
An heirloom from India, Poona Kheera bears light yellow-green fruits when young. Fruits left longer on the vine turn to russet-brown at full maturity. According to the seed catalog, they are best harvested just as browning begins when the skin has a sugary-sweet flavor and the flesh is juicy and crisp. This variety has been a poor producer and I would not recommend it for container culture.
This East Indian variety produces 7-inch-long fruits, although I typically picked them when smaller. The fruits are a creamy-ivory color. Along with Dragon’s Egg and Miniature White, this variety is well-suited to container production, yielding consistently through the summer.
Large Dutch Yellow (Gele Tros)
This bright yellow cucumber is popular in Holland where it is used as a pickling cuke. Through July and the first half of August it was a disappointment, not yielding well in container culture. Production may be on the increase, however, as there are several small fruits hanging on the vines.
As for flavor, I did not find major differences among these varieties. They all have a crisp non-bitter flavor when harvested and eaten small, before becoming seedy. I do find all of the tested varieties to be crisper and less bitter than green cucumbers.
There were major differences among the eight varieties with respect to production in containers. Top performers were Dragon’s Egg, Miniature White, White Wonder, and Boothby Blonde. I found myself wondering if variety differences in yield are related to differences in stress tolerance. Growing 3 cucumber plants in a 3-gallon pot does subject the plants to both water stress, particularly on extremely hot days, and root restriction stress. The poorer performing varieties may have produced better if there had been only one plant per pot.
Growing cucumbers and other vegetables in containers has become popular and not only among urban gardeners. We always grow a tomato plant or two in large pots and we have experimented with eggplants, pepper, and now cucumbers. Once the in-ground space is full, containers offer an opportunity to try a new variety or increase the harvest of an old favorite. Growing in pots does mean more work, including daily watering and more frequent application of nitrogen that is quickly leached from the pots by frequent watering.
Sources for Heirloom Vegetables, Including Cucumbers
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, www.rareseeds.com
High Mowing Organic Seeds, www.highmowingseeds.com
Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Johnnyseeds.com
The Cook’s Garden, www.cooksgarden.com