Monday, February 23, 2015

Sweet Potato Update

So, back in mid-January I finished harvesting my purple sweet potatoes. Despite this being the first time that my children helped with the harvest, they did a great job. All told, by January we had harvested 278 pounds. Each variety did very well. I harvested plenty Dingess Purple, Alabama Purple (or Purple Delight) and All-Purple. Even a friend's pink variety did well.

The kids helped harvest these Sweet Potatoes

Though I had hoped to sell some on Craigslist, we may be eating a lot of them. That’s alright because my kids don’t mind eating lots of sweet potatoes. (=

Purple Sweet Potato Fries (=


Friday, January 9, 2015

Arkansas Little Leaf Cucumber

Though I have been wanting to grow Arkansas Little Leaf Cucumber, ever since growing it in my first summer garden, it was not until I recently had access to a greenhouse when I finally made the time and room to grow this incredible cucumber variety.

The Arkansas Little Leaf Cucumber

At the time when I last grew this variety I had not experienced any amount of success with other cucumbers and was highly impressed with the results. Thanks to the University of Arkansas developing and releasing this variety (initially a patented variety) gardeners are able to grow a very prolific cucumber in any climate. One of the ways in which this variety can grow in various climates has to do with its parthenocarpic fruit. When a plant exhibits Parthenocarpy (literally meaning “virgin fruit”) this means that the vines will produce female fruit without pollination.

Male Flowers of the Arkansas Little Leaf

Though plants that are parthenocarpic will produce fruit without pollination, any fruit produced in this manner will be completely sterile. The fruit will simply produce without seeds. Bees or industrious gardeners are required to pollinate fruit if there is to be seed for future generations. As there are generally plenty of male flowers, pollination does not become an issue unless the temperatures outside are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In this case, the gardener must wait until the temperatures cool down so that the male and female flower blossoms do not wilt in the heat. 

The Immature Female Blossom at the perfect time for Pollination

Because they are parthenocarpic, the fruit can keep its flower for a while
The vines of the Arkansas Little Leaf cucumber are generally very disease resistant and hardy. The cucumbers themselves are a bit thick-skinned (much unlike the Carosello I am used to growing). This is an incredibly prolific variety that will produce and produce until the plant itself dies. With the fruit exhibiting a very consistent size, Arkansas Little Leaf makes the perfect cucumber for pickling in or out of a greenhouse. 
Arkansas Little Leaf Cucumbers are prolific despite any outside stresses.
In summary, when presented with a pretty prolific parthenocarpic pickler, promptly pick the Arkansas Little Leaf to pack into your next pickling pints.

Arkansas Little Leaf is a consistent pickling Cucumber

Monday, December 1, 2014

The beginning of the 2014 Sweet Potato Harvest

Shriveled up leaves are evidence of the first slight frost
To reassure those of you who think I may be done with this blog, I am continuing to garden as time permits. Near the beginning of November, Tucson received its first light frost. I did my very best to harvest as much as possible, but I am so busy with the needs of everything else that I have had very little time to harvest. This is one of the main concerns I have with growing sweet potatoes. The harvest needs to be done all at once, but I have very little time to do so.

What could be making the ground to crack?
The Gardener found a surprise!
The other main concern I have with growing sweet potatoes is how dirty I get. The sap that comes from the vines of this relative of the Morning Glory family is incredibly difficult to remove. Often, I will go to work with people looking at my hands wondering why I did not wash them after multiple times of nearly scrubbing my skin off with soap.

Several Hours of Hard work outside the garden.

Sweet Potato Sap is VERY difficult to get off. I wear grubby clothes.

A look at one of the many Purple Sweet Potatoes after being washed.

Other than the two concerns I have mentioned above, I really love to grow sweet potatoes and still generally enjoy gardening. I just need more time to do it. So far I have managed to harvest quite a bit of sweet potatoes outside of my garden. Now, if I can only make time to harvest the other 4/5 of the crop!

A view of Several Hours of harvesting Purple Sweet Potatoes

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Slow Fall

Though I have some access to a greenhouse this fall, things have generally been pretty slow. Due to some health problems related with the climate here (the heat and the dirt in the air) I have been sick a lot recently.

Carosello Massafra Plant

As we consider moving to another state my desire to continue a full-scale garden here in Tucson has greatly decreased.

Immature Carosello Massafra fruit

No matter where I end up, I am sure I will continue to garden and grow cucumbers (and Carosello), but I am definitely feeling some sadness about my garden and a lack of desire to keep working on it if we will be moving.

Some Carosello and other cucumber plants

Mezzo Lungo Polignano Fruit

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Finding the Long Dark Armenian Cucumber

As cucumber varieties are selected or mix with other cucumber varieties they often change, based on either a specific goal in the mind of the grower or not. For years I have been searching for seed of the Long Dark Armenian cucumber.

Cucumbers Sprouting in Late July

Cucumber seedlings, Late July

Dark Armenian Cucumber with first True Leaves

Dark Armenian Cucumber with second set of true leaves

When I initially saw this variety I contacted the seed company whose growers inadvertently crossed a Painted Serpent with a Dark Armenian cucumber.Perhaps because said company has catalogues that say “Pure Seed” they would not admit that any variety had been crossed, even after I pointed it out to them. Instead, they continued to grow and sell this new long dark Armenian hybrid without selecting for specific traits - such as uniform length or plant size. 

Dark Armenian Cucumber beginning to grow vines

Dark Armenian Cucumber beginning to produce male blossoms

So, in order to try to get this specific variety, I began contacting growers who had posted pictures of them until I could find one who happened to have a few seeds left. I am grateful that I did, because I soon discovered that said seed company’s 2014 seed packets would produce more off-types than ever.

On this morning there was dew on the leaves of the growing vines.

Another picture of the dew on some cucumber leaves.

The dew on the leaves was very pretty

Another view of the leaves with the dew.

Female blossoms are often hiding behind the cucumber leaves.

Backing up a little, it helps to know what a medium dark Armenian (or Tortarello Barese Verde) looks like. Though a rare off-type may occur, regular Armenian cucumbers grow to be 10 to 16 inches (at the optimal consumption stage) and the plants grow an average size (around 4 x 4 feet without trellising). If the goal is tasty cucumbers, it is essential that the gardener goes out each day and checks on the plant to ensure that the cucumber does not become hardened and bloated as it prepares to make seed. The process is very similar to growing zucchini, which is tender when young but huge and rock-hard when left unattended for a few weeks.

The Dark Armenian Cucumber plants continue to grow

One of the Dark Armenian Cucumber Plants still growing

The Armenian cucumber seeds sprouted quite well after my solarization and application of EM-1 to my garden. However, after some lower leaves developed burn-like spots after a later application of EM-1 I am beginning to believe that EM-1 should be used for only the soil level down, while a bacterial-based aerobic compost tea should be trialed for the leaves of plants, such as cucumbers and tomatoes. A recent TOG speaker noted findings at the University of Arizona that suggested that aerobic compost tea contains bacteria which can decimate common garden diseases. When I save up enough money and have enough time to start brewing aerobic compost tea I’ll be sure to share my findings.

Dark Armenian Cucumber blossom

Another look at the blossom

Cucumber-Melon blossoms are beautiful

Female Dark Armenian Cucumber blossoms before and after fruit set

Dark Armenian Cucumber plant growing strong supportive vines

Because the gardener who so graciously shared her seed with me did not send me enough for my whole garden, I purchased some additional seed from the original company. The original plants grew quickly, as did the second batch – though in my frequent visits to the garden I was met with a drastic range of plant sizes and a few odd female flowers.

A cucumber setting fruit with a pretty hanging vine

The sequence from left to right of fruit set and growth (Sept. 1st)

Dark Armenian Cucumbers almost ready to pick

The Dark Armenian Cucumber - Ready to Pick - Later September

Two long, immature brother Dark Armenian Cucumbers

Here they are all grown up

This one is getting longer!

To illustrate the range of growth patterns and fruit sizes in the population I developed a case study of three of the 12 plants I grew of this rogue variety.

Case 1: Large Plant, Medium Length Cucumbers

Case 2: Small Plant, Small Cucumbers

Case 3: Medium-Large Plant, Long Cucumbers

Case 1: The longest plant is growing up into the bird netting

Case 1: First of all, some of the plants produced large plants with medium cucumbers. This can be very advantageous in long-season climates with long summers, such as here in the Southwest. The larger a plant grows, the more it is able to fend of pests, and the more fruit it will produce. My largest cucumber plant from this group grew between15-20 feet out from the root and is still growing and producing. If a cucumber plant is going to grow this big, in all directions, then the fruit can go from just fertilized to cucumber sized in less than 48 hours. It is often nice when the plant produces longer cucumbers, so the gardener or farmer does not have to go out each day to check if cucumbers need to be picked.

One of the many cucumbers from Case 1

The cucumber grows

This is the perfect size for picking and eating - Yum!

A few brothers from my huge productive plant.

The plant continues to grow over my shed and back again. (Late September)

Case 2: I really do wonder if the selection of this seed that I received this year is not partially crossed with a Mezzo Lungo di Polignano. The plants are very small and the fruit is very short. Based on the coloring and the shape of the fruit I know that this plant is not a Mezzo Lungo di Polignano but it is difficult to argue that these are some very short cucumbers. Plants that are short produce quickly, but often may not last as long as some larger plants.

Case 2: The dwarf Dark Armenian Cucumber plant with dwarf fruit

This female blossom is reminiscent of a Mezzo Lungo di Polignano

The dwarf Dark Armenian Cucumber plant beginning to set fruit

A very pretty look at the fruit set of the dwarf plant.

Another look at the dwarf plant setting fruit.

And yet another - I love seeing the fruit grow!

At this stage the plants are beautiful.

And after the long wait we have... a very small cucumber!

All grown up! - This dwarf Dark Armenian Cucumber looks quite... small!

Case 3: The goal of my trail this season was a medium-large plant with long Tortarello Barese Verde or Dark Green Armenian fruit. Though I do currently have only one (1) plant that might produce this one (1) fruit that I self-pollinated, I did have another earlier that was beginning to produce longer fruit until it was smitten by cucumber mosaic (on account of brown leaf-hoppers). Obviously, seed from this fruit would initially experience some inbreeding depression if I grew only one plant - though if all goes well I may be able to save the seed and grow out this beautiful variety in the future.

This female blossom looks like what I have been searching for!

The growing cucumber affirms my initial suspicions.

At last - The Long Dark Armenian Cucumber!

Another look - just for fun!

In comparison to the other cucumbers in the garden.

One of the longest cucumbers from the dwarf Dark Armenian Cucumber plant.

The long dwarf Dark Armenian next to the Long Dark Armenian.

From these and other past experiences I have learned the following 3 lessons:

First, should I desire to begin breeding my own Carosello or Tortarello variety for a specific trait, it may be just as well that I do it myself. Often times, well intentioned seed suppliers either choose to grow varieties too close together (leading to crossing) or do not select their plants for specific traits (leading to a wide variance). Secondly, if I find that my seed is producing all kinds of strange varieties or producing inconsistent results, it might be a good idea to find a seed supplier who selects each vegetable variety for its characteristic traits.

A few Dark Armenian Cucumbers destined for dinner!

A deliciously displayed delicacy of digestive delight!

The last thing I have learned from my experience is that it makes a real impact when one can find farmers and suppliers who know their vegetables and are able to assist the amateur in growing them successfully.

A few medium-sized Dark Armenian Cucumbers on display.