In the Garden: Cucumbers

Lately I am having a heck of a time keeping up with the tremendous output of cucumbers in the garden.  Somehow, despite the onslaught of squash bugs and cucumber beetles that have been plaguing us for weeks, the cukes have done pretty well.  Only now are they starting to show signs of the bacterial wilt transmitted by those pests, which all of my other squash plants have fallen prey to.

Growing an organic garden is a challenge. Even in a good year, when pests aren’t that awful, it is a chore.  Every evening you’ll find me out among the squash, smashing squash bug eggs and their adult counterparts in an effort to pare down the population.  Japanese beetles get collected in a mason jar every night, shaken well (to stun them so they don’t fly away) and fed to the chickens.

But this year.  This year has been something else.  I knew it would be bad; the warm winter we had meant that bugs would be numerous.  Even so, I was unprepared for the epidemic that we’ve suffered.

Basically, I’ve given up on the squash.  If I had known just how bad it was going to be I’d have invested in some Neem oil,
but I’ve had such success in past years by simply picking off eggs and bugs that I hadn’t bothered.  They are just so incredibly out of control, and it has been in the 100’s here for a few weeks so I was unable to spend as much time as I’d like to keeping them in check.

The good news is we’ve gotten quite a substantial crop of cucumbers despite the bugs.  We’ve also had a bumper crop of surprising little things called “Mexican Sour Gherkins”.  These are tiny sour – tasting cucumbers that look like mini watermelons.

They are terrific for snacking and for salads.  I may even pickle them, which is what I have been doing in mass batches with the bigger cukes.

My favorite pickles are refrigerator pickles, and my favorite recipe for them is adapted from Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it by Karen Solomon.

I slice up my cukes however I want them (I like to do some jars bread and butter style, some spears, some halves).  I stuff each jar with cukes, a spoonful of minced or crushed garlic, a dash of ground cinnamon (the recipe calls for one cinnamon stick per pint jar) , a teaspoon each of yellow mustard seeds and brown mustard seeds, a tablespoon or better of dill, a teaspoon or better of red pepper flakes (more if you like heat), a couple grinds of black pepper, and a few teaspoons of kosher salt.  Exact science, right?  You’ll get to know how to adjust these for taste after your first jar or two. Since you’re not canning it the recipe doesn’t have to be perfect.  It is more important that you end up with the taste you want.

 

Then I fill up half the jar with vinegar (generally you use white vinegar, but I’ve used apple cider vinegar to great success.  I imagine champagne vinegar works nicely as well) and the rest with water.  Then seal and let it sit in the fridge for 48 hours before eating.

They are supposed to last in the fridge for about a month – but let me tell you, we generally eat them all before that.  I’ve had a couple of stray jars hidden in the back of the fridge that go unnoticed for around three months and were still just fine.

 

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