Archive for category Cucurbits

Hairy Cucumber, Bari

Cuc Bari 20090629

This wonderful fuzzy little ‘cucumber’ was one of the delights of my kitchen garden this summer. A smallish plump light green fruit with a furry or ‘downy’ skin and sweetish crisp flesh. The natural habit of the plants is to trail but it can be tied to grow over a climbing frame. Quick to crop, in around 60 days, they are also prolific and it seems the more they are picked the more cucumbers the plants produce. Most importantly they are absolutely delicious and do not get bitter even in extreme dry heat. I don’t think a meal has gone by, since they started cropping in early June, without them. Bari cucumbers are actually smooth skinned, the fur just rubs off.

Kate from Hills & Plains & Seedsavers in Australia brought the seeds over with her last Autumn on her French visit and entrusted me with some of these heirloom beauties. Kate came by the seeds because the Radogna family of Bari, who had been growing this cucumber in Italy as Caroselli Baresi, brought seeds with them to Australia.  One of the family, Silvio, who has been growing them for over 30 years in Australia passed some of the seeds on to Kate because he wanted to make sure that the seeds would be kept going and the cucumbers would be grown by other gardeners. Read Kate’s story of her encounter with Silvio and his cucumbers

I was so impressed with these heirloom cucs that I started doing some research to find out more about them and discovered a whole family I didn’t know about, the Italian carosello type, a smallish fruit with a fuzzy skin and crisp flesh grown and eaten as a cucumber but botanically a melon, Cucumis Melo.  If these Bari cucumbers are Italian carosello type, Cucumis Melo,  I do have a slight problem with my seed saving plan this year because Melons cross easily. I had planned to save the seeds of these Bari cucumbers not least because I promised Kate, so I planted only one cucumber, the Bari, in the potager believing it to be Cucumis Sativus but I have also planted melons in the potager, so if the bari is a melon they could cross. The melons are not yet flowering so I have time to pull them out to make sure the Bari do not cross with them. I’d gladly sacrifice melons for these little beauties. I have planted Armenian Cucumber in the polytunnel which is Cucumis Melo so I can only hope that the barrier of the polytunnel will have cut down the chances of crossing sufficiently not to endanger the Bari seed. If anyone can confirm which botanical family these Bari cucumbers belong to I’d much appreciate it.

Flower Hairy Cucumber (Bari)

Flower Hairy Cucumber (Bari)

The fur just rubs off in you hand or under the tap.

The fur just rubs off in you hand or under the tap.

Cuc-Bari20090810 (1)

Left to grow on for seed

As they grow and get larger the characteristics become more melon-like, the flesh, although not sweet has a more melon like flavour, the fur is thinner or possibly the same amount of fur shared over a larger area.

Research
Research paper  A published paper on the varieties of Cucumber Melons still growing in Southern Italy. There are a number of ‘cucumbers’ from Southern Italy and from Puglia in particular that appear similar in that they have fury skin and are small.

I have found similar cucumber melons at a number of seed sources as follows.
Cucumber Barese from Grow Italian Described as: Light green, oval cucumber/melon from bari. White flesh. 4 inches long. Mild tasting and very productive. 70 or so days. Typical ‘downy’ skin of this type.

Cucumber Carosello Barese from Mail Order Garden Heirloom Cucumber Barese Seeds from Bari produce a Light green oval melon type cucumber with White flesh mild taste and very productive.

Carosello Barese from Gourmet Seeds Described as: Extremely tasty and very mild heirloom. Texture and flavor are very nice. Similar to Mandurian round cucumbers. Has no spines as a normal cucumber but light peach fuzz, as it is truly a member of the melon family with no bitterness or ‘burps’. When harvested young (as pictured), slice and use whole as you would a cucumber. If allowed to grow, it will begin to show ribbing and develop a thin skin, and the flavor will shift to a that of a mildly sweet melon. A wonderful ‘cucumber’, a best seller, and a huge hit on any table and a great novelty at market.

Carosello Mezzo Lungo and other armenian cucumbers, carosellos and pickling melons from  Solan Seeds

Original post from Mas du Diable  August 8, 2009  updated July 2012

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Achoca (Cyclanthera)

Cucurbitaceae (Cyclanthera pedata or brachystachya)

Tender annual

Sometimes referred to as a stuffing cucumber, Caigua, In the Andes (quencha) it is also widely called “caihua”. Elsewhere, it is known as pepino de rellenar (Colombia), pepino andino (Venezuela), and variations on “achoca” and “caihua.”[2]

A climbing cucurbit from Peru with thin vines producing an abundant harvest of edible, hollow, green, pods or ‘gourds’ 6-15cm long with a spongy interior containing a dozen or more hard black seeds. There are two achocha species; ‘Fat Baby’ (Cyclanthera brachystachya) producing single fruits which are fat and covered in soft, fleshy spines and ‘Lady’s slipper’ (Cyclanthera pedata) which sets smooth fruits in pairs that are more elongated and slightly curved like a Persian slipper.[1]

Origin Native to Central and South America – from Mexico south to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia now considered one of the ‘lost crops of the Incas’. ‘Caigua’ is currently cultivated as a food in the Carribean, Central and South America.

Site & Soil ‘The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils..It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland).It requires moist soil’[3].

Propagation Grow in the same way as other tender cucurbits. Sow in pots 4 weeks before planting out after the last spring frost.

Care Provide protection until plants are established and provide a climbing frame, pergola, trellis or wigwam for the plants to scramble over.

Spread plants can grow 4.5metres and are best grown vertically though they can be left to scramble over the ground between larger plants.

Harvest Pick regularly to increase production. Immature fruits (before the seeds have formed) taste and look like tiny cucumbers. Pick when small and eat as green vegetables raw or cooked. As the pods grow they become hollow when they are best cooked with the seeds removed.

Storage The fruits keep well for a week or more in a cool place.

Botany and Seed Saving Achocha do not cross with other cucurbits and saving seed is straight forward simply pick or scrape the seeds out of the mature pods, dry and store. ‘The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Insects.’[4]

Use The immature fruits may be eaten raw or pickled. Unlike many cucurbitaceous fruits, the fruit are more like pods and become quite hollow as they mature, and the mature fruit is often eaten stuffed. In South America the fruits are used like peppers – either raw or cooked (after the seeds are removed). They are also stuffed with meat, fish or cheese and then baked.” In Ecuador a soup is made with the fruit. Like many cucurbits the leaves and tender young shoots are delicious cooked and used as greens.

Medicinal A tea can be made of the seeds is used for controlling high blood pressure. Caigua is traditionally taken to reduce blood cholesterol levels. It has various traditional medicinal usages, mainly to control cholesterol, reduce obesity, control high blood pressure, regulate the metabolism of lipids and sugar in the blood stream and decrease cholesterol.

[1] Emma Cooper – http://www.coopette.com/articles/growing-achocha

[2]Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation (1989) Squashes and Their Relatives (202-209)

[3] Plants for a Future http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cyclanthera+pedata

[4] Plants for a Future http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cyclanthera+pedata

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Pumpkins

Pumpkins are members of the Cucurbitaceae family which also includes: Cucumbers, Gourds, Squash, Melons and Courgettes & marrows. These half-hardy annuals make good potager plants because not only are they a great food source over the winter months but the leaves and flowers are attractive as well as the fruits. Most cucurbits will either trail over the ground or climb over supports. Supported they take up less space and the quality of the fruit is better, they can also provide shade for more delicate leafy plants during the summer months. Plant cucurbits to climb over walkways, pergolas, trellises, posts, bean poles and fences.

Spacing
If you want a bumper crop, pumpkins need space. For our needs we don’t need that many so I prefer to stuff them in wherever I can; on the edges of beds to run under large brassicas or corn or to grow along perimeter fencing or over trellicing. As a general guide at a minimum plant bush varieties about 75cm (2ft) apart and trailing varieties 3-4ft apart or give them more space and plant bush varieties 1.5m (3-5ft) apart and trailing varieties 2-2.5m (6-8ft) apart. Allow plenty of room for the plants to spread or climb.

Site & Soil
Pumpkins are fairly greedy and thirsty plants requiring well drained, moist, rich soil in full sun. Cucurbits require a growing season of 3-4 months with a mean monthly temp of 18-27c. Minimum soil temp should be 13c. Avoid cold sites and exposed positions. To prepare a cucurbit bed: Dig out planting holes at your chosen spacing at least 30cm (1ft) deep and 45cm-60cm. Work-in a bucket-full of compost/manure. Return topsoil leaving a shallow depression in the top. Form a ridge 5cm (2in) high surrounding each planting hole to help retain moisture.

Propagation

potting on a cucurbit plug

Most cucurbits will not transplant very well so in warm conditions it is best to sow direct. However if you want to get an early start or the beds are not free yet you can sow in pots undercover and plant out to minimise root disturbance.

  1. Sow undercover 3-4 weeks before the last frost is expected, (at the same time the planting holes are being prepared outside). Sow seeds, on their side, in a good free draining seed compost in 7.5cm biodegradable or plastic pots, 2 seeds per pot . Apply a layer of compost or vermiculite, 1cm (½in.) deep. Place in a propagator or polythene bag until the seeds germinate. Thin out the weeker seedling. When the remaining seedling has 3-6 true leaves and the roots have filled the pot (usually after 2-3 weeks). Harden off (1-2 weeks in a cold frame or in a sheltered spot) and plant-out once all danger of frost has past, to the level of the soil in the pot. The neck of the plant can be vulnerable to rot so should not be buried.
  2. Sow in plugs – curcubits grow well in the little pucks availble from gardening shops. Hydrate the pucks and sow one seed in the centre of each, press the sides to cover and keep moist at all times. When the roots appear at the edges of the puck plant out or on into a pot and treat as above.
  3. Sow direct when the soil has warmed up and all danger of frost has past, in our area that is early May. Sow 2 seeds (1in deep) into each of your prepared planting holes. Cover with a mini cloche (a cut down water bottle) if necessary for protection. When the plants emerge thin to the strongest.

Germination at 20-30C usually takes 5-10days. Seeds can be soaked over night to aid germination or chitted and sown when sprouted. Seeds should be sown on their sides not flat.

Pollination Male and female flowers are usually born separately and are insect pollinated. The female flower can be distinguished by the tiny bump behind the petals which develops into the fruit after fertilisation. Hand pollination may be necessary if fruits fail to set (best done in the morning).

Planting by the moon
Sowing at the optimum point of the lunar calendar really does seem to make a difference to Cucurbits. In our small scale trials cucurbits have germinated significantly better when sown 1 day before a full moon.

Care
Water-in thoroughly after planting out. Water regularly and liquid feed (seaweed) every 14 days once fruit start to develop. Mark the position of the plant, with a tall stick, as it can be difficult to see where the root of the plant is when in full growth. Train Tie into supports if growing up and If growing on the ground train the leading shoot to grow in a circle, it looks great saves space and can increase plants food supply. Pin down the stems / or bury at intervals the cucurbit should develop roots on the stem thereby increasing food intake. Prune Fruits develop on laterals as well as the main stem so if the plants become too rampant nip out the main growing point and cut back laterals to within a couple of inches of the nearest developing fruit. Thin small fruit and use them in the kitchen to encourage larger fruit later. MULCH Make sure supports are strong enough to take the weight of the plant and be prepared to individually support the larger fruit if necessary.

Companion: Cucurbits tend to grow well with; beans, peas, sweetcorn, capsicums, nasturtium but mostly do NOT grow well with potatoes. Plant flowers around Cucurbit beds to encourage pollinating insects.

Harvesting and Storage
Because Pumpkins store so well they are an excellent source of food over the winter months. On average they will keep for 6months but some store for 12 months or more. Store in well ventilated conditions at temperatures between 7 and 16c. At higher temperatures they will dry out. Pumpkins can be used immature cutting early will result in a heavier crop for winter but when harvesting for winter storage they must be harvested mature.

Signs of maturity are:

  • Skin colour changing from light to dark some green types may also loose their gloss.
  • Stalks become corky and dry (about 50% brown is a good sign of maturity.
  • Skin cannot be pierced with a thumb nail.
  • Flesh is orange rather than yellow and the seeds are hard.
  • Cracks appear on stems and skins

Leave on the plant as long as possible but bring in before 1st frost. Cut with 3-5cm (1-2in) of stalk. Cure in a sunny sheltered position (27-32c) (e.g. against a sunny wall) for 4 -10days to allow stalk to seal and skin to harden. Protect from night frost.

Nutrition and Culinary
Pumpkins have a higher nutritional value than courgettes and marrows (summer squash) and the Cucurbita moschata have a particularly high Vitamin C content 30% more than maxima and 80% more than pepo. Pumpkins are pretty versatile they can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. As a vegetable they can be pureed, cut into chunks and stir fried, deep fried, boiled or stewed. They can be added to soups and casseroles or cooked with mustard greens. They can be made into excellent sweet pickles, the ripe seeds can be roasted as a snack or added to salads and the flowers are a delicacy. Pumpkin seeds are a good source of essential fatty acids, potassium, and magnesium.

Favourite Varieties
There are so many varieties of pumpkin it is impossible to grow all of them in one life time, but here are some of my favourites so far. I tend to prefer the dryer nuttier types of pumpkin.

Butternut (moschata)
reliable large cropper, creamy ochre smooth skin with a pear shape, flesh is golden-orange with a lovely hazelnut flavour. Fruit are high in Vitamin C. Great roasted, pureed or in stews, curries etc. Keeps 12months. Seed source: from organic seeds given to me by another organic grower.

Green Hokkaido (maxima)- pictured above
fattish round pumpkin with slight ribbing, dark green skin with a dense, nutty, dry, yellow to orange flesh. Each plant produces 1-3 fruit around 13-25cm in diameter with an average weight of 1-2.2kg. Matures in 98 days from direct sowing. Keeps well, 9-12months. Source Ferme St. Marthe

Marina di Chioggia (maxima) – pictured aboveItalian Heirloom – magnificent to look at, dark green knobbly skin with deep yellow orange flesh, growing up to. 5kg. lovely baked. Stores well 9-12months and flavour often improves with age. Seed source: Seeds of Italy, Seeds of Kokopelli, Ferme St. Marthe

Potimarron Red Kuri (maxima)  A Japanese ‘Orange Hokkaido’ type pumpkin also known as Uchiki Kury. Brick-red tear drop shaped fruits weigh in at 1.5-2.5 kg and an average diameter of 15cm. They have a wonderful dense dry flesh and a deep chestnut flavour. Stores 4-6 months. pictured above

Potimarron (maxima) originally brought from Japan by Macrobiotic master Oshawa. Now a French classic. Chestnut flavoured dense flesh 2-4kg Keeps fairly well, 4-8 months. Matures in 90days from direct sowing. Seed source: Seeds of Kokopelli, Ferme St. Marthe

Blue Hubbard (maxima) Huge, teardrop-shaped fruit weigh 15-40 lbs and have sweet, fine-grained, golden flesh. Great for baking, pies, and soup. The hard, blue-gray shell helps these keep for long periods in storage. Gregory Seed Company introduced this fine New England variety in 1909, and Mr. Gregory considered it his best introduction. pictured right

Musquee de Provence (moschata) French southern heirloom variety smooth skin, green ripening to ochre with deep ribs and sweet, aromatic firm orange flesh, They look a bit like a Cinderella pumpkin. Vines are vigorous and can grow up to 6m bearing 2-5 9kg fruit. Matures in 110days from direct sowing. Keeps well.

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Chayotes

Sechium edule. Cucurbitaceae Chayote, also called Vegetable Pear, Merliton, Choko or Chow Chow 

I love trying new vegetables and this is one I started growing in 2008 which turned out to be one of the best edibles I’ve grown. Chayote is not something I had grown or even tasted before 2008 but a local cheese maker, Hermine, who runs an organic goat farm nearby, gave me two chayotes.  The idea was that I could eat one to see what it tasted like and plant the other, but as they both started to sprout I planted both and just hoped that they would taste good at harvest time. The vegetables turned out to surprisingly good, crisp and delicious, almost better than a courgette or a cucumber in some ways; the flesh is denser and crisper, with a light subtle taste and smooth texture that makes them very versatile in the kitchen. The leaves were also delicious and as the climber produced tons of leafy growth it is a good source of leafy veg too.

Origin Its origins are Mesoamerican although how far back it goes is a mystery because, unlike many other vegetables, there have been no remains; fibres, seed or skin found to date its cultivation or use. It was however recorded by the early Spanish invaders as a food consumed by the Aztecs.

Propagation Chayote are propogated from the whole fruits. Keep some fruits back each season and plant as many as required. In spring plant the chayotes on their sides with the thin end facing slightly upwards nearer the surface, cover with soil, water in then add a layer of mulch to protect from any late frosts and retain moisture.

Site and Soil As with other cucurbits Chayote will grow best in rich soil. Plant the whole fruit in stations prepared with good rich planting mix. I use a mixture of manure, woodash, leaf mould and garden compost.

Care Keep moist and provide a climbing frame for the plants to grow on.  Pinch out and tie up plants as they grow.

Harvest Fruit are ready to harvest 4 -6 months after planting.

Use Most parts of the chayote are edible; the starchy tuberous parts of the roots are used like potatoes, the shoots as a pot herb, the young leaves as spinach or as a medicinal tea, the fruit as a vegetable and the nutty stones inside the fruit are prized by cooks. When young the fruit can be eaten whole but as they get bigger it is best to remove the skins as these can get a bit tough. They are equally delicious raw or cooked and go well with nutty, hot, salty, spicy or sour flavours. I particularly like to cook them with coconut, lentils, peanuts, tomatoes, chilli and citrus. Lovely grated raw, sliced in salads, stir-fried, lightly boiled, baked, candied, pickled, pureed, mashed or added to soups, curries and stews. I’ve still have lots of experimenting to do with this vegetable in the kitchen but so far it really is a winner.

Pests & Diseases keep an eye on them as with any cucurbits undercover, they will be prone to red spider mite and powdery mildew. I also had a problem with mealy bug in the polytunnel which affected the chayote plants very badly.

Lunar Planting
I have found that cucurbits sown one or two days before a full moon have a higher germination rate and crop more vigorously. I planted the second of the two chayotes on the 19th March two days before a full moon. The first I planted a couple of weeks earlier.

Sources and links for more information
wikipedia gives a good breakdown of the many names for this plant around the world.
R. Lira Saade (National Herbarium of Mexico, Mexico City) writes about Chayote as a neglected crop describing its botany, history, culture and uses in her article New Crop Chayote
Chayote is posted as a Plant of the week on Killer Plants

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Edible Pumpkin Seeds

I love eating pumpkin seeds but it is a real trial to extract edible seeds from regular pumpkins because most seeds have a thick second skin or hull. The seeds need to be extracted, dried and then hulled which is very fiddly and time consuming.

Pumpkin Lady Godiva

I tried growing a variety of pumpkin called Retzer Olkurbis or Lady Godiva because it has hulless seeds. The flesh was a real disappointment and had little culinary value, being watery and tasteless, but the seeds were lovely and hulless.

Pumpkin, Lady Godiva

Getting the seeds from this pumpkin is really easy you simply dig the seeds out with your hands, wash them well, drain and lay out to dry. They taste great as they are or even better dry roasted with soy sauce as a delicious snack or crispy extra in a salad.

A word of warning

The seeds seem prone to sprouting whilst still inside the pumpkins, perhaps because they have no hull. So I find it best not to store this variety and harvest the seeds as soon as the pumpkins are cured. Another thing is that this pumpkin is often described as having hundreds of seeds. I did not find that myself when I grew Retzer Olkurbis. As you can see from the picture this pumpkin does not have many seeds at all.

In the end I am not sure it is worth dedicating the pumpkin patch to this variety. I don’t want to eat the pumpkins only the seeds and lots of them so perhaps I should stick to varieties I like eating and put up with the fiddly chore of getting the seeds out of their hulls.

I’d be interested if anyone else has grown pumpkins or other cucurbits for their edible seeds.

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