It's the year of the cucumber

Cuke named Vegetable of the Year

Who knew cucumbers have been grown in space? Or that, worldwide, they are the fourth most popular vegetable in cultivation?

Who knew cucumbers have been grown in space?

Or that, worldwide, they are the fourth most popular vegetable in cultivation?

Do you know how good they are for you? They are one of the superfoods.

Small wonder the National Garden Bureau is showcasing the cucumber as their Vegetable of the Year for 2014. Considering cucumbers date back at least 3,000 years, this recognition has been a long time coming.

Native to India originally where a number of varieties were apparently grown, cucumbers made their way to Greece and Italy. If we are to believe Pliny the Elder’s account, the Roman Emperor Tiberius enjoyed eating cucumbers year-round.

Early greenhouse designs made this possible…plus the fact the cucumber variety most probably grown for the Emperor’s table was no bigger than the size of today’s gherkin. It would not have needed nearly so many growing days as the English Long type to reach maturity.

But I find it interesting this Roman emperor craved cucumbers as part of his daily rations. They are certainly beneficial for you…a superfood, as I mentioned.

Any one embarking on their New Year’s resolution to lose weight will appreciate the low calories. Only eight in a half cup of slices.

In that same serving size, there is one milligram of sodium…a much healthier way of getting your salt than through a shaker.

Same with the sugar content. One gram per half cup serving translates into one-quarter of a teaspoon of healthy sugar.

Cucumbers are also packed with Vitamin A, B1, B6, C, D, calcium, magnesium, potassium and folic acid. Be sure to eat your cucumbers with the skin on as this is where most of the Vitamin C is contained…a full 10 per cent of the recommended daily allowance.

Being 95 per cent water means cucumbers are really wonderful for rehydrating and flushing toxins from the body. Of course, in order for your cucumbers to be so full of water at harvest time, you will have had to keep the plants well-watered throughout their growth.

From the time your cucumber seeds sprout, they will need one to two inches (1.25 to 2.5 cm) of water per week.

Understandably, this is a guideline figure. Much depends whether you grow your cucumbers in a greenhouse, as we do, or outside where our wet springs of late keep the soil pretty saturated.

Soil type is very important, too. Cucumbers grown in sandy soils will need more frequent watering.

It is always best to water your cucumbers from the bottom. Overhead watering with a sprinkler system usually promotes powdery mildew. Spacing the plants at the recommended distance enhances air circulation…another good practice in thwarting powdery mildew.

Nowadays, cucumbers are typically divided into three categories: pickling, slicing and burpless.

Picklers, as they are generally known, are bred for uniform size. Many cultivars are three to six inches (7.5 to -15.0 cm) long and one to one and a half inches (2.5 to 3.8 cm) wide. Pickling greatly extends the shelf life of a cucumber but it is at the expense of nutritional value…much of which is lost in the pickling process.

Slicers are the desirable cultivars for fresh-eating. Typically long and slender, they can also be small and round such as the heirloom variety ‘Lemon’. Introduced in 1894, this one has an interesting hint of lemon flavour.

Burpless varieties are just as their name implies. These ones are sweeter and have a thinner skin, making them easier for some people to digest. They are also quite long in length with some growing up to two (60 cm) feet.

So, it seems plants, including cucumbers, are making it out into the final frontier…space. Plant experiments have been going on in the various spacecrafts and on the International Space Station since the early 1970s.

Who knew?

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca and her column appears every second Thursday in the Record.

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