It's almost time to plant cucumbers again. Last year, our crop yielded about 200 cucumbers, none less than 12 inches long. We pickled them, and ate them in soups, salads, sandwiches - and every which way they can be fixed. We also gave them to friends and neighbors.
I felt like the melon growers in Provence, France, who grow so many melons they have to think up new recipes. They even have a melon cook-off followed by a melon festival. They dip pieces of melon in batter and fry them, purée them, bottle melon essence, make melon sushi, and even have a melon museum. I don't believe cucumbers have as much interest here. I'm not sure fried cucumbers would go over so well either, but I was at the point where I was ready to try anything.
This interest in cucumbers started when my husband signed up for a small plot of land in the senior center. Here, the Garden Club encourages plot owners to keep their area well-groomed and planted. Already on this piece of land were four mature rose bushes, too pretty to take out. So any vegetables my husband wanted to plant had to fit between the thorny bushes. Now, you notice I said "my husband," for this was to be his project, while I went about my own business at home.
It started out that way. He rototilled the ground, added compost and other good soil amendments. Now he was ready to plant.
That's where I came in.
"What shall we put in?" he asked.
"Well, carrots, beans, peas, beets, and tomatoes would be nice," I suggested. "And I'd like pumpkins."
"And how about cucumbers?" He smiled hopefully.
"Cucumbers take a lot of water," I said.
He shrugged. "No problem."
I helped out and planted the carrots, beans, peas, beets, tomatoes, and pumpkins - just to see if they would grow. They did. But so did the cucumbers. My husband followed the directions carefully, making six mounds of dirt piled up like tiny volcanoes. In the center of each he put the tiny cucumber seeds. Within weeks, green leaves poked up out of the volcanoes. And then everything exploded. It did seem like an eruption.
The plants grew and grew like Jack's beanstalk, only these wound around everything. They mingled with the rose bushes, the pumpkins, and the tomatoes. Soon there were tomatoes and cucumbers growing together, making their own salad. There were cucumbers with thorns and cucumbers with beets, cucumbers with pumpkins, and cucumbers with carrots. It seemed to happen overnight.
Even though my husband made a trellis for the cucumbers, they did not behave and stay put. They wandered around, visiting everything in the garden as well as the neighboring plots, where they headed for the onions, garlic, and lettuce on one side, and reached out for the green and red peppers on the other side. They especially liked the tall zinnias in the beautiful flower garden next door. We cut them back continually, but it didn't daunt them one bit.
I must admit it was thrilling to find cucumbers tucked under large green leaves. "Look at this one!" I'd shout. And he'd shout back, "This one is bigger!" The contest went on for weeks and weeks. The refrigerator was overflowing with the green things, and finally I got so I didn't want to see a cucumber again. Ever!
But that was months ago.
Yesterday, my husband came home with seven packets of seeds. He had the usual - carrots, peas, beans, and beets - as well as corn. Then he pulled out a packet and sheepishly held it behind his back. I didn't have to ask him what it was.
"We're headed for another cucumber roundup, I see," I said.
He smiled. He's promised to build a bigger trellis. We'll see if that helps.