The Tasteful Garden: How to grow and cook what you love to eat

Tasteful Garden: Sow cucumber seeds soon for delicious fall crop

CorrespondentsAugust 16, 2013 

Summer cucumber relish.

COURTESY OF DEBBIE MOOSE

Carol Stein grows it

Cool cucumbers are a summer favorite. Luckily in our area of the country, gardeners can sow seed before the end of August for an early fall crop of this popular vegetable. Cucumbers should be ready to pick six to eight weeks after the seeds germinate.

Cucumbers need full sun, plenty of air circulation and water, particularly during long dry spells.

Growing the vines on sturdy trellises offers good air circulation. Also, plants grown on trellises yield more uniformly shaped cucumbers than do trailing vines on the ground.

In the garden, sow seeds in loose, rich, well-draining soil. Using raised beds will provide additional drainage.

For container growing, use bushel or half-barrel-sized pots filled with fluffy, fresh potting mix. To ensure adequate drainage, punch extra drain holes in the bottom. Place a strong trellis in the pot for the vines when planting. You could also tie the vines loosely to balcony or patio railings to make them grow vertically.

Sow seeds half an inch deep and 10 inches apart in containers or the garden, cover the seeds with dirt, tamp them down with your hand and water them well. Then water lightly every day until sprouts appear.

In containers, thin the sprouts when they’re about 6 inches high, leaving only the strongest three plants in each container. (Add those tasty cucumber sprouts to salads.)

Apply an inch or two of compost on top of the soil after germination to maintain soil moisture.

As your cucumbers grow, be sure they receive an inch of water each week.

Remove mature cucumbers as they ripen and before they swell and form large seeds – about every two days, then less often when the weather begins cooling down. Harvest by clipping the stems with sharp scissors or pruning shears.

Debbie Moose cooks it

I once worked with a woman who loved cucumbers so much that her favorite snack was a dinner plate full of slices sprinkled with salt. She’d wander around the office munching on them all morning.

On a fiery summer day, I can see why she enjoyed them. “Cool as a cucumber” isn’t just a saying; something about the vegetable is as soothing as a glass of iced tea.

Maybe it’s because cucumbers are about 96 percent water, according to “The Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst.

There are several kinds of cucumbers, from small pickling cucumbers to large English or hothouse cucumbers.

For any kind, select cucumbers that have bright green skins and no soft spots. Fresh ones will keep in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to a week.

Supermarket cucumbers are often coated with a food-grade wax designed to keep them moist and extend their shelf life. It’s OK to eat but doesn’t taste particularly good.

I’ve encountered non-waxed cucumbers with bitter-tasting peels. Generally, I peel cucumbers unless I’m making pickles, but it’s up to your preference.

You may want to remove the seeds if you’re making cold soups or relishes where the seeds would offer a unpleasant texture. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and simply scoop them out with a spoon.

This Indian-inspired relish is quick to make and would be great with grilled chicken or as a snack with pita chips.

Reach freelance writers Debbie Moose and Carol Stein at tastefulgarden@hotmail.com.

Summer Cucumber Relish I made a mild version of this relish, but if you want it spicier, add the optional jalapeno and chili powder. 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and diced (about 1 ½ cups) 3 tablespoons chopped mild banana or Italian pepper ½ teaspoon chopped jalapeno pepper (optional) 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped roasted peanuts 3 tablespoons shredded coconut ½ teaspoon sugar or to taste ¼ teaspoon salt or to taste 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon vegetable oil ¼ teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds ½ teaspoon ground cumin ¼ teaspoon chili powder (optional) PUT the cucumber, pepper, optional jalapeno pepper, peanuts and coconut in a medium-sized bowl. Add the sugar, salt and lemon juice and stir to combine. HEAT the vegetable oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds, and cook and stir briefly until the seeds are fragrant and begin to pop, just a couple of minutes. Add the cumin and optional chili powder, and stir and cook for a minute or so. Pour the oil-spice mixture over the cucumber mixture and stir. Taste and add more sugar and/or salt, if desired. Serve at room temperature. YIELD: About 2 cups

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