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Vermont Garden Journal: Unusual Cucumbers

Originating in India, the traditional cucumber has evolved over the past 3,000 years and includes an assortment of shapes and colors.
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Originating in India, the traditional cucumber has evolved over the past 3,000 years and includes an assortment of shapes and colors.

The cucumber as we know it from our salad bowl is, in fact, a 3,000 year old vegetable from India. There are many variations of this melon-friendly veggie; let's look at a few. 

Most gardeners grow cucumbers for fresh eating in salads and smoothies or to make into pickles. While the fruits are usually elongated with green skin, there are some unusual varieties that are worth growing.

'Lemon' cucumbers grow into small, round, pale yellow balls. Believed to be originally from the Middle East and resembling a lemon's shape and color, this heirloom has a crunchy texture and a sweeter, less acidic taste than traditional cucumbers. I like picking them when only two- to three-inches in diameter for the best flavor.

From India comes an unusual colored cucumber. 'Poona Kheera' is a yellow-turning to brown-skinned, elongated variety. This heavy producing heirloom can grow up to five feet and trellises well. Harvest the fruits when they are yellow for the best flavor. However, if you miss some, or just want to thrill your guests, wait until it matures to brown and looks like a russet potato. 'Poona Kheera' holds its crunchiness even when fully ripe and doesn't get seedy. Plus, it's much easier to find when harvesting among the green leaves.

This last cucumber is new to me but I've tasted it and I'm ready to give it a try. 'Mexican sour gherkins,' or cucamelons, look like miniature watermelons but taste like cucumbers dipped in lime juice. This Central American native produces an abundance of these small “watermelons” that are best picked when they're the size of a big grape. Eat them raw, pickled or toss them in a cocktail for fun!

Now for this week's tip:  for an early taste of spring, prune off branches of forsythia, chaenomeles and redbud to force indoors. Select branches with clusters of flower buds, prune off a one-foot-long shoot, and recut the shoot under water once indoors. In a few weeks you should have some flowers.

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