The challenges associated with hot humid climates often result in having to grow plants that require cooking to prepare such as eggplant, Chinese Long Beans, and Okra to name a few. Often heat and humidity does a number on tomatoes and cucumbers. The standard dark green thick-skinned American cucumber did not fare well in my garden – in the least. When asked about cucumbers, a fellow member of TOG (Tucson Organic Gardeners) told me that she just cheats and buys hybrid seed because she loves the flavor so much. For me the answer is not in buying hybrid seed, but in finding the right variety for my area. I had previously cultivated Suyo Long, which I enjoyed very much because of its heat resistance, big leaves, and delicious fruit. However, Suyo occasionally gave way to forms of root rot half way through the season and if grown near cucumbers or melons that became diseased it would, over a course of two weeks, succumb to disease as well. In the future I would like to grow a crop of Suyo Long plants in isolation to see if it can resist diseases better as a monoculture - though I rarely grow monocultures for fear that if disease spreads to similar plants I’ll lose the whole crop.
A vigorous Yamato vine.
The answer I found to growing a disease-resistant cucumber was Yamato, a variety touted to be just as delicious as Suyo but with better disease resistance. Perhaps I thought that since Suyo was a Japanese cucumber that other cucumbers of Japanese origin would work well in Tucson. My seed stock was acquired from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE)*. In growing Yamato I found that it was very disease resistant and that it was able to sprawl out like a nice big cucumber vine should. My Yamato vines withstood a nearby cantaloupe giving way to mosaic and fought off an attack of powdery mildew from an Armenian cucumber rather well. Saving seeds from this variety was relatively easy as well, though I saved seeds from “selfing” the plant. That is – I used male flowers to pollinate the female flowers on the same plant. The next year’s seed did not germinate as well or produce plants as vigorous as the previous year’s. This leads me to believe that Yamato is pretty sensitive to inbreeding. Though the fruit of the second year’s plant did not have a negative side affect that the more vigorous vines did have.
Sliced Yamato Cucumber
The main drawback to the Yamato cucumber is something I feel probably deters the cucumber beetles from eating it all- the sap. The Yamato cucumber produces a bitter fruit in roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of the part of the cucumber connected to the vine. Some say you can use a trick to “bleed out” the bitter sap, but this has just not worked reliably for me. So I do one of two things. Either I pickle the fruit thinly slice the bitter portion and soak the slices in salt water. Given that the fruit get quite large, giving away a portion of the fruit for the rest is not too bad. The immediately edible portion of the fruit tastes like a thin skinned American cucumber - which is better than most grocery bought cucumbers but not quite as good as the Suyo Long. Another option in eating Yamato cucumbers would be to grow a lot of plants – saving the top for pickling and the bottoms two-thirds for immediate consumption. My second year’s cucumbers had no bitterness at all, but the incredibly poor vigor was a high price to pay for a couple tasty cucumbers. Besides, pickling cucumbers is fun to do. My Yamato pickles turned out pretty well for my first try. One of my children shares my enthusiasm for pickles as evidenced by the fact that he wanted a Jar of Yamato pickles for his birthday. This same child pleads for dill pickles every time we pass them in the grocery store.
My son, the pickle lover, with a Yamato Cucumber.
In summary, the Yamato is a disease resistant and heat resistant cucumber that requires a number of plants for seed saving and requires some additional effort if you wish to utilize the whole fruit. If you live in an area where these factors are of particular concern, you may just want to try growing a Yamato.
*Note: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange does not offer Yamato in 2012, but does hope to be able to offer it next year.