Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Armenian Cucumber


Ready to remove seeds of fully grown Armenian Cucumber
Should you say the words “Armenian Cucumber” to gardeners in Tucson you usually get one of two responses. Either they love it or they hate it. And if they hate it this is often because they pick it when it is too big. The Armenian cucumber is the “zucchini” of the melon family. As the cucumber grows its flesh turns from a tender zucchini-cucumber taste to something reminiscent of the crunch of a carrot and the taste of a watermelon rind. It has a light green color and smooth skin that can be eaten raw and has furrowing (or ridging) along the length of the cucumber. Though it is botanically a melon (C. melo) like a cantaloupe or a honeydew it is used like a cucumber because it tastes like one when it is the size of one.


A young Tender Armenian Cucumber


So why do people grow the Armenian Cucumber instead of other cucumber varieties? Well, for several reasons. For the amount of space you can just grow more and faster. The Armenian cucumber vine pumps out the fruit. Additionally it is quick. Although other cucumber varieties boast 60 days or less I have never had any cucumber variety that can go from seed to cucumber faster than the regular light Armenian cucumber. They simply set fruit very early on the vine. Yet another reason to grow these is that they do incredibly well tolerating both poor soils and extreme heat.
 

Armenian Cucumbers are Prolific!
 
 
So with so many benefits, why doesn’t everyone grow Armenian cucumbers? For starters the texture is just not the same as a regular cucumber. Though the taste is like a cucumber the texture is much more like a zucchini. The second reason why many people don’t grow this variety is because of the disease issues. The regular Armenian cucumber is much like a firework. It shoots out fruit quickly and prolifically but is incredibly susceptible to cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew. It is so good at carrying these diseases that it will often infect all neighboring cucumbers (regular or melon varieties) once the disease is caught. The last reason why gardeners choose not to grow the Armenian cucumber is that if you miss one cucumber it will become gargantuan almost overnight. If your saving seeds, a fat seedy cucumber is what you want, but if your purpose is only to eat the cucumbers you will find that overlooking a cucumber often causes the plant to start dying (from putting all its energy into seed production) and the resulting fruit will probably not taste as good as the mouth watering cuke you desired.


Palatable cucumbers are picked when not too thick


This is the perfect size for eating.

 
The best way to judge if the cucumber is to judge it by the thickness. It should be a little thinner then a large grocery store cucumber. Start by putting your thumb and index finger around it.  If you cannot touch the other side it is too big, if you can just touch the other side you had better pick the cucumber before it is too late!

There is something I have noticed about all of these melon varieties that I have grown. I call it the “fuzz factor”. Small soft fuzz covers the prospective cucumber and, once pollinated, may decrease or increase as the cucumber grows. The regular Armenian cucumber has a bit of peach fuzz to begin with but is unnoticeable once the cucumber grows.

Notice - Minimal Fuzz Factor

As a gardener there are some things that just really bug me. I have a real issue with seed companies that mislabel their product. One can either excuse a seed company for this ignorance or they can perceive it as intentional deceit and false advertising, used to lead customers to buy something that they do not want. The two seed packages below are perfect examples. Once grown out, they looked exactly like the regular light pea-green Armenian cucumbers that I have always grown in color, texture, and furrows (just like the pictures above). Additionally, the misleading packaging from Bavicchi called “Tortarello Abruzzese” truly looks like something between a regular Armenian cucumber and the Armenian cucumber variety known as “Painted Serpent”. Perhaps I will try another “Tortarello Abruzzese” if anyone can send me seed of a cucumber that fits the picture shown below.
 

Nice Pictures - but these turned out to be Normal Armenian Cucumbers

So, in short, Armenian cucumbers are a good thing, and most likely a cucumber of the future. There are other strains of melon varieties that I have grown that have completely different merits from the regular Armenian I have discussed here. So if you love cucumbers just think – there may be an Armenian variety out there for you.

Update: If you are interested in growing any Armenian cucumbers or related cucumbers, please see my blog's sample seed shop at Cucumbershop.com.


The Armenian Cucumber: AKA: Tortarello Chiaro or Tortarello Abruzzese


16 comments:

  1. I've been growing some armenian cukes, and have let several of them grow to huge proportions. I have read on some blogs that they develop into a sweet melon if you let them ripen, as one would do for seed saving. Have you had any experience with this and if so, how would you describe the flavor of a fully ripened armenian cuke?

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    1. Dear Greg - Thanks for the response! In my experience regular Armenian cucumbers do not become sweet when grown to a very large size. The flavor becomes that of a watermelon rind and the texture similar to a very hard carrot. I have heard you can pickle the rind, though you may find it becomes a little too hard for your palate if you leave it on the vine for a while.

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    2. Have you been saving seed? I have some heirloom italian cucumbers that are also c.melo, which turn into sweet melons ONLY on the last day or so before they slip off the vine, before that day they are quite watery and tasteless. I only know this because I save seed from them and you have to wait till it slips off to get good germination in the next generation. So, I wonder if the armenians are similar. But, it sounds like you have not found that to be true...?

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    3. Dear Greg,
      Your experience with the Italian cucumbers is very similar to mine. The Armenian cucumbers produce a thicker rind that remains pretty tasteless. The cores are a little more open than the Italian heirloom Carosellos such as the Madurian or Barese cucumber melons sold here in the United States. Then again, even the Armenian cucumbers could be bred to become more sweet.

      What type of Carosello (cucumber melons) are you growing country are you located in, Greg?

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    4. Hi Jay,
      I live in Texas, USA.
      The variety is Spurredda Leccesse or something, I am not sure on the spelling. I had an italian friend who was going home for a few days and I asked him to bring back some typical seeds from his home. He is from the town of Lecce, these are the 'Lecce' cucumbers. They are good cucumbers, grow fairly round and have both striped and solid green fruit, though I think the solid green may be genetic intrusion from growing melons nearby. The sweet melon stage is palatable but very musky and softer textured than I would prefer. It makes good agua de melon or similar drinks even if it's not much for eating with knife and fork.

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    5. Thanks for the reply Greg! I love seeing pictures of the carosello - if you are willing to share a couple pictures of this variety with me, I would greatly appreciate it and add it to my blog, if you would like. Just let me know and I'll give you a temporary reply with my email. I don't usually leave my email online anywhere due to spam, etc.

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  2. I just started growing my Armenian cucumber in the spring...I just started seeing male flowers this week and hope for some females soon!

    If you've got any pointers, please let me know...

    (Here's a link to my blog... http://myapartmentgarden.blogspot.com/2012/07/armenian-cucumber.html )

    Thanks and your cukes look great!

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    1. Thanks for the response, Garden.
      In reguards to the Armenian cucumber - it is wise pick the females before they start to become too large unless you are trying to save seed before eating any fruit. If you plan on going on vacation and would like to eat your cucumbers I would advise having a friend pick them while you are gone. Once the vine goes to seed it often channels all of its energy into making the seed and often dies after the fruit becomes large.

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  3. Hi! I just wanted to clarify something in your blog about Bavicchi and the Tortarello Abruzzesse. I'm the owner of Italian Seed and Tool and we are the US distributor for Bavicchi. Please understand that Bavicchi is not being 'misleading' when they label it as Tortarello rather than Armenian. The Italians have been growing the Armenian types for so many years that they now consider them to be local, just as they have imported, adapted, and embraced so many other 'foreign' crops (tomato, pepper, eggplant, corn, etc). Also, they tend to name varieties based on a physical characteristic and/or the region for which they are common--hence "Tortarello"/physical and "Abruzzesse"/region.

    An additional issue is a USDA requirement that we maintain the name for any imported variety in a language that uses a Roman alphabet. This is why you will often see importers such as us indicate both the imported name and also what we more commonly will know it as here. For instance, what the Italians know as "Zucchino Verde di Milano" we know as "Zucchini Black Beauty".

    As a recognition of this situation, you'll note that we've included in the description for the Tortarello that it is an Armenian type:
    http://www.italianseedandtool.com/product/VCE08/Cucumber-Tortarello-Abruzzesse.html

    By the way, like the blog--some great ideas and insights!

    Phil Winteregg
    General Manager
    Gourmet Seed International, LLC
    dba, Italian Seed and Tool

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    1. Hello there Phil and thanks for leaving a post on my blog.

      My hope in publishing the above post on my blog was not to keep people from buying Bavicchi seed, which is a high quality seed that is well worth buying. Rather, I wanted to inform gardeners that if they are looking for something different from the light-green Armenian cucumber that they might not want to invest in the Tortarello Abruzzesse.

      I have purchased some carosello seed from your company in the past in addition to the Tortarello Abruzzesse. I have enjoyed the carosello I have grown though I was disappointed by the Tortarello Abruzzesse because of what I felt was misleading about the product. I completely understand the requirement to use the name given to the seed variety based on the region it comes from. I have no problem with the name of the product or that it is a melon-cucumber. The plant grew fine and it produced plenty of cucumbers. What I feel is misleading about the product is neither the name nor that it grows cucumber-melons, but rather the photograph on the packaging.

      The photograph makes the product look somewhere between a Painted Serpent Armenian cucumber and a Tortarello Barese. I understand that, based on breeding and selection, a specific melon-cucumber can look different than the packaging. However, I find it misleading when the cucumber that grows in my garden looks very different from the cucumber on the packaging. Ferry-Morse also has the same problem with the photograph of the Armenian cucumber on their packaging, which looks more like a Tortarello Barese but when grown is actually a Tortarello Abruzzese, or light-colored Armenian cucumber.

      Should you find, in growing out any Tortarello Abruzzese seed from Bavicchi, a cucumber that matches the variety pictured on the packaging I will gladly buy the viable seed harvested from that cucumber from your company and retract my statement about the misleading packaging.

      Again, my hope was to inform those who do not want to grow a light-colored Armenian cucumber that a Tortarello Abruzzesse would look, feel and taste no different from an Armenian cucumber.

      I hope that I can one day find a cucumber-melon that matches the picture on Bavicchi's pacaging. It looks quite tasty!

      With great respect,
      Jay Tracy

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  4. I know this post went up a few months ago, but I wanted to ask if it will be okay to plant these near pumpkins. I have two hills of Amish Pie pumpkin in an area where there will be some space available, but I have heard that sometimes when squashes (the pumpkin) are planted by melons (the cucumber), the resulting melons are bitter. I don't know if they are closely related enough to affect one another for seed saving, either...I am not yet certain if I will attempt to save seeds or not. Thank you for your time!

    -Laura at TenThingsFarm

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    1. Dear Laura,

      Thank you for your question! While there is a lot of information out there that is good and helpful, there is also some that is plain false!

      Armenian cucumbers (as well as other melons that are grown as cucumbers) are only able to cross only with plants in the Cucumis melo family. Though squash and melons are in the same family, they do not share the same genus or species, thus are not able to cross pollinate. Even regular cucumbers, Cucumis sativus do not cross with the C. melo family despite the many online rumors that Armenian cucumbers are a cross of the two species. As a seed saver who has grown regular cucumbers side by side with Armenian-type cucumbers for years, I have never had any evidence (with subsequent generations of plants) that my C. melo and C. sativus plants have cross pollinated. Likewise, I have never heard of nor experienced a cucumber or melon crossing or having any kind of impact on the pollen of the four families of squash. It would be more likely that one squash species would hybridize with another squash species, (such as a C. moschata crossing with C. pepo) than a cucumber or melon species affect the pollen of a squash species.

      If you would like to learn more about vegetable breeding, I highly suggest reading Carol Deppe’s book on Breeding your own Vegetable varieties (I mention it in an earlier post).

      The only thing that I know that will consistently make any fruiting vegetable bitter is a pH below 6.5. One time I filled an area of my garden with compost that had a very low pH (too many free coffee grounds from Starbucks). Most of the plants that grew in this soil had a very bitter taste. That being said, the butternut squash I grew in that soil was never bitter.

      If you do ever end up with bitter squash it is probably due to some other factor (such as a flawed seed supplier, plant stress, or poor soil) than with growing melons.

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    2. About planting fruiting vines together:

      Squash usually outgrow cucumbers and melons (squash grows faster and taller) so a squash plant would pose much more of a threat to a cucumber or melon plant than vise versa. That being said, if you are planning on growing two heavy feeding plants (plants that require a lot of nitrogen and other nutrients) next to each other it might be wise to have an ample supply of compost, high quality fertilizer, and water available for when the plants begin to compete for resources. Another resource to consider is light. If the Armenian cucumber is not provided with a trellis (like a tomato cage) to climb up it will most likely be unable to compete for light –resulting in a harvest of only squash.

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  5. Hi Jay!
    I'm getting ready to save the seed, and perhaps I missed it, but I am unclear if I need to ferment these, or just scrape and save like a watermelon. Can you give me some advice? Thanks!!

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    1. Hi there Rachel,

      Though I grow many types of cucumbers that are in the melon family, it is generally the same for all of them. The basic technique is to store them in a safe place and wait until the hard fruit becomes fairly soft. Waiting can be hard, but if you attempt to harvest seed too soon you may end up with soft unusable seed or hard seed that is unviable. Timing on this is not exact as ripe fruit that has already softened and slips off the vine needs to be cut into immediately while some harder fruit that may have been cut off immaturely may have to wait 3-4 weeks. If you can shake the fruit and it makes a slushy sound, it is time to harvest seed. Generally, the seed will not sprout or rot in the fruit unless the outside of the fruit begins to rot. You can put the fruit in a warm place to speed up the process - but that can carry some risks as well.

      I generally just open up the soft fruit and harvest the seeds. I separate the pulp from the seeds in a colander as shown in this blog post: http://scientificgardener.blogspot.com/2012/08/garden-maintenance-and-carosello.html

      As for fermenting - I tried fermenting Armenian cucumber seeds once (I think it was only for 12 hours) and the majority sprouted. So I would not recommend fermenting unless you want to plant the seed immediately.

      In general - I love the Cucumber Melons, including the Carosello and Armenian cucumbers - and find them much easier to grow and maintain then some traditional cucumber varieties.

      Hopefully I did not overload you with too much information. Please let me know if you have any further questions that I can help with.

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    2. Hi Jay! I did save them, and planted about a month ago. So far, so good! Thanks for the info- Rachel C.

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