Every summer, I aim to grow at least a dozen different cucumber varieties. I know that sounds like a lot of cucumbers, but I think of our garden as an experimental farm where I test (and taste!) crops to find out how they perform in my zone 5b climate that is often beset by fog, rain, wind, and early frost. Cucumbers, and in particular, unusual cucumbers, are among the most popular vegetables in our garden – especially with my kids and nieces and nephews. C’mon! Who doesn’t love a just-picked cucumber?
To save space and keep my plants healthy, I grow cucumbers up trellises. By mid-summer, these structures support the rampant vines of varieties like ‘Lemon‘, ‘Speckled Apple’, ‘Boothby’s Blonde’, ‘Garden Oasis’, and ‘Mexican Sour Gherkins’, which are known quite affectionally in our household as cucamelons (shown in the main image above) for their adorable grape-sized fruits that look like tiny watermelons.
Cucamelons – Although not botanically a cucumber, cucamelon plants produce long vines that thrive in the heat of summer. Growth is slow to start in spring, but by late July the vines are a tangle and beginning to pump out the mini fruits in profusion. It’s only been a few years since we started growing cucuamelons, but they quickly earned a permanent place in our garden thanks to high production and excellent flavour – best described as cucumber with a hint of melon and a zing of lime. Wowza!
Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist, suggests using the small fruits as garnishes in your botanical beverages, but we’ve been gobbling them up as soon as they are about an inch in length.
Boothby’s Blonde – This easy to grow heirloom hails from Maine, where the Boothby family saved its seed for generations, preserving the variety. An unusual cucumber, it has pale yellow skin with tiny black spines and crunchy flesh. We like to eat the fruits fresh, but I hear they also make excellent pickles. Ideally, pick the fruits when they are 3 to 5 inches long. As they mature, the skin colour will deepen to a pretty golden yellow, but the eating quality declines.
Armenian cucumber – Like cucamelons, these aren’t really cucumbers. In fact, Armenian cucumbers are melons, but are typically grown and eaten like cucumbers. In my cool climate garden, they need a head start indoors with the seed sown about 4 to 5 weeks before the last expected frost date. By early June, the young plants go into the garden and are given a sturdy trellis to climb. The fruits begin to appear by mid-summer and have a rather unusual appearance. They’re long and curved, with pale green skin and a soft fuzz coating the fruits. If left to mature on the vine, the fruits can get big – a foot or longer in my cool climate garden. But, as with most vegetables, the quality declines, so pick while still young and firm. In the below pic, the Armenian cucumber is the middle fellow, with Lemon on the left and Garden Oasis on the right.
Do you grow any unusual cucumbers?