Year of the Cucumber

By Susan Littlefield

For more about the history of cucumbers, variety selection, and culture, go to Year of the Cucumber. For more about 'Sliver Slicer' cucumbers, go to National Garden Bureau. (Image courtesy of National Garden Bureau)

Cucumbers are one of America's favorite home garden crops. Whether for fresh eating, pickling, or even cooking (cucumber soup or roasted cukes, anyone?), cucumbers are one of the five most popular additions to home vegetable gardens. Easy to grow, cukes are a boon for those with limited space as they are good candidates for vertical growing. In recognition of all of its attributes, the National Garden Bureau has declared 2014 the Year of the Cucumber.

Did you know that cukes are native to India and have been grown in Asia for thousands of years? Seeds uncovered in a cave on the Burma-Thailand border and radiocarbon dated came from cucumbers eaten in 9750 B.C.! Cucumbers made it to the New World with Columbus, where centuries later H. J. Heinz of Pittsburgh first began bottling pickles commercially. Lots of breeding work has gone on over the years, and modern gardeners now have a wide array of varieties to choose from.

Cucumber varieties are divided into two main categories -- slicers and picklers -- but within these divisions there is lots of variation. You can grow ″burpless″ cukes; ones with vining or bush growth habits; varieties bred for disease resistance; parthenocarpic varieties that set fruits without pollination; one with big or small fruits, cylindrical or round fruits; even ones with white, brown, or yellow fruits.

A new one to try is 'Sliver Slicer', an open-pollinated variety with 7-8 inch long, creamy white fruits with tender skin, sweet, mild flavor, and pleasantly crunchy flesh. Bred by the organic vegetable breeding project at Cornell University, the vigorous vines bear prolifically and are resistant to powdery mildew. Like all cukes, 'Silver Slicer' is a warmth lover, so wait until the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past before planting seeds or transplants.

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