Monday, 16 August 2010

Cucurbits

My efforts in the cucurbit area this year have centred on two examples -- an outdoor cucumber variety called "Marketmore" and a marrow called "Bush Baby"

CUCUMBERS
The cucumbers are growing in (the remains of) my first-ever compost bin, made many years ago from some old bits of scrap wood. The bin has long since been replaced by a series of plastic bins (I'm on my fourth one now, with 3 in full-time use), but the old wooden bin is full of lovely home-made compost to a depth of about 50cm, and the cucumbers love it. To provide something for the plants to climb up, I have used some long pieces of wood saved from when we had our maple tree pruned, tied horizontally to the biggest branches of some nearby shrubs.

Cucumbers growing in the old compost bin
I wasn't very optimistic about the yield I would get from these plants, because the situation of the old compost bin is far from ideal (having been sited in a place that I had considered too cold and shady for growing things!). However, I have been pleasantly surprised. Each of the two plants has produced about 4 mature fruits so far, and hopefully there will be one or two more later in the season. Some other fruits formed but did not mature -- presumably because they were not pollinated.

Cucumber - Marketmore - on the vine
I have found that the fruits produced by my plants tend to be long and thin -- certainly not as plump as the hothouse varieties you buy in the supermarket. Anyway, the taste is perfect, and we have been eating a lot more cucumbers than normal this year... One way of eating them that we discovered recently is this: using a whole fruit - or at least a significant portion of one -  peel the cucumber with a vegetable-peeler, and discard the skin. Then use the vegetable-peeler to cut long thin ribbons from the cucumber. Avoid using the centre of the cucumber, which is mostly seeds. Season the ribbons liberally with salt and freshly-ground pepper, pile them up on a nice-looking dish, and Voila - you have a wonderful and visually impressive salad. (No picture available at present -- maybe next time...)

Cucumber harvest - August 15th
The one in the front has a narrow "waist" in the middle. I don't know what caused this, but I presume that it is something to do with reduced water supply during the very dry spell we had in July (I know it's hard to remember this when you think of the torrential downpours we have had this last week or so!)

MARROWS
The marrow is also growing in a "re-cycled" container. It's half of a plastic compost bin. The bin (especially the lid) was damaged in a storm by a falling fence-panel, so it had to go. Rather than discard it completely, I cut it in half with a saw and kept the bottom half, which is really just a ring with no base. The ring is about 50cm deep. This is now positioned on a small raised bed at the bottom of the garden which had become unusable because it had been invaded by tree roots. Positioning the ring on top of the raised bed and filling it with home-made compost has enabled me to regain use of the space, creating a nice deep container.



The re-cycled compost bin used as a tub for the marrow


I deliberately chose a bush type of marrow, rather than a trailing type. The latter type would be too rampant for my small garden. My marrow is "Bush Baby". I sowed three seeds in small pots in early April. One of the seeds succumbed soon after germination, but the other two grew strongly. I planted out the best seedling into the ring container in about mid-May, protected with a bell cloche until the weather warmed up. As a matter of interest, I always keep any spare seedlings I have for as long as possible, since experience has taught me that until a plant is fairly mature any manner of calamities may befall it, and it's always as well to have a replacement handy...

The plant soon grew too big to fit within the ring, and the growing point spilled over the edge. Early on it produced masses of female flowers (you can tell these by the mini fruits behind the flower). Unfortunately, the male flowers never seemed to open at the same time, and it was ages before they "got their act together". In the end two fruits formed, and both grew to maturity. To stop the fruits coming into contact with the soil (and potentially going soft) I laid them on a piece of broken tile.

Here's a picture showing one of the fruits, with the black compost-bin ring in the background. This is the second of the two fruits produced; perhaps slightly weaker than the first one. You can see that it has a bit of a "waist", just like its cucumber cousin.

Marrow Bush Baby
Here's a picture of the first marrow harvested. Of the two, it was probably the best -- certainly tasted nice!

Marrow - Bush Baby
You may be interested in Jane's recipe for stuffed marrow...

Slit the marrow in half lengthways and trim the ends, removing the stalk. Then scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard them.
Plunge the marrow into a large pan of boiling water to par-boil for 3 minutes. Remove it from the pan and drain it well.
Place the marrow halves in a large roasting tin, and brush with oil.
Cover with foil. Bake in the oven at 160 degrees for about 40mins or until just tender. Don't over-cook the marrow or it will become soggy!
Remove the foil and fill the marrow with your chosen filling -- such as chopped hard-boiled eggs in a thick cheese sauce; cooked green beans in a fresh tomato sauce; cooked spiced minced beef (maybe even some leftover Bolognese sauce) mixed with cooked rice.
Serve with salad and crusty bread...

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did. Marrow has had a bad press, and needs to be treated sensitively, but when it is cooked well, this is a lovely vegetable. The home-grown examples seemed much firmer than shop-bought ones, which are often spongy, probably because they have been picked weeks before you actually buy them.

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