Monday, August 6, 2012

Close Up #1 -- Japanese Cucumbers, Southern Delight and Progress

Here's a new type of post on that I hope to repeat semi-regularly where I'll take an in-depth look at one particular kind of plant in the garden.

Today, let's take a close up look at the two varieties of Japanese cucumber - Southern Delight and Progress - that I'm growing in the garden. Both of these are grown from seed that I purchased online at Kitazawa Seed.

Baby cucumber. Most cucumbers have both male and female flowers. The female flowers are the ones with a baby cucumber at the base.
Both the Progress and Southern Delight varieties are supposedly bred to withstand heat and disease.

They survived the all-time Nashville record heat (109 degrees) and all the 100+ days in late June / early July. But they did grow much better when temperatures fell back into the 90s.

If the female flower is not pollinated, the baby cucumber will dry up and fall off. That was a problem I had last year for a while, which forced me to try hand pollination with a very small paintbrush with limited success. Pollination seems to be better this year, perhaps because of all the zinnias and cosmos I've planted among the vegetables to attract pollinators. Here, pollination seems to have occurred and the baby cucumber is getting darker and longer.

Last year, my cucumbers sprawled all over the ground and I think the lack of air circulation might have contributed to the plants getting either powdery or downy mildew, which basically killed the cukes. So this year, I wanted to trellis them for better air circulation, but I wasn't sure of the best way to do it, so I experimented by taking some leftover hardware cloth in the garage and bending it into a tunnel that I secured to the ground with landscape staples (pounded in with a rubber mallet) and weighted down with bricks and heavy stones.

Cucumbers starting to cover the makeshift trellis. I think we've got Progress on the left and Southern Delight on the righ in this picture.

For whatever reason, I'm totally charmed by the curliness of the cucumber tendrils

Here's a young Japanese cucumber. It seems to me that the blossoms hang on the end of these Japanese cucumbers more persistently than on the 'American' cukes I grew last year. Love the huge, healthy green leaves!

One thing that has surprised me about the Japanese cucumbers is just how thin they are! I know that the catalog describes them as approximately 1-inch diameter (versus maybe 2-3 inches on a typical 'American' cuke?) but they still seem really slender to me. Well, I guess that means I can justify eating more cukes at each meal!

Fortunately, the skin is so thin on a Japanese cucumber that there's no need to peel the cuke. At least, I don't peel them. I just wash them thoroughly and slice them up with the skin on, then eat them with a little salt. Yummy!

They grow up so fast...

Sadly, despite the trellising, the plants did end up afflicted with some disease. Some of the leaves yellowed, others got blotchy. Some of the cucumbers grew deformed. Trying to diagnose the problem on the Internet, I suspected bacterial wilt. And I found some insects clustered on the growing tips that I suspected were juvenile leaf-footed bugs. I knocked a bunch of them off into a bucket of soapy water which effectively killed them without harming the plant or any other beneficial insects nearby.

On an optimistic note, some of the plants seem to have recovered somewhat, which would suggest that maybe the problem is not bacterial wilt, since I believe that's supposed to always lead to the rapid irreversible demise of the cucumber plant...

Anyway, I'm happy that the plants are still forging onward. The other day I even harvested two cucumbers that were long and straight and healthy-looking.

Cucumbers are not problem-free plants and it seems like they do require some pampering and watering in the South, but they're still one of my favorite things to grow (and eat) so far!

Japanese cucumbers tossed with a little salt. What could be cooler and more refreshing in the summertime?


- Have you ever grown Japanese cucumbers? If so, do you peel them or just eat them with the skin on?

- What is your favorite variety of cucumber to grow and why?

- Do you experiment with any wild cucumber recipes or do you just eat them sliced or in a salad?

There's still a little time left to enter the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sweepstakes, which ends tomorrow (August 7th) at 11:59 p.m. Central time!


  1. I love Japanese cucumbers. Most Japanese varieties are "burpless" and do not need to be peeled.

    My favorite way to eat them is to wrap them in wakame (the seaweed you use for sushi) and dip them in soy sauce.

    Japanese people like to eat them with mayonaise.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Brandon!

    I never would have thought of wrapping the cucumbers in wakame and dipping them in soy sauce, but thanks to your suggestion, I will give it a try!


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