Friday, March 27, 2020

Methods of Keeping Cucumber Varieties Pure

Even the focus of this post mainly concerns carosello (which are a type of C. melo) these cucumber-melons still grow much like regular cucumbers. Though the application of crop isolation here is in a monecious flower (such as vining crops and corn), the principles of isolation that are described here can be utilized for any crop type that requires isolation from insect pollinators.

Putting a mesh bag on a female carosello flower

Once bees begin pollinating, isolation is required for variety purity

With the incredible variations of color, shape, size and texture that distinguish one carosello variety from another it can be very difficult for any gardener to grow out more than two carosello varieties in one garden over the course of one year. There are different ways to isolate cucumbers. One way is to isolate them by distance. In areas without barriers or dense foliage between varieties a minimum distance of 1 mile is recommended. Another option is to grow one variety until there are no more flowers that can pollinate a second cucumber variety. What if you want to grow multiple cucumber varieties to seed at the same time? What options are there? In 2018 I decided to try three different carosello varieties at the same time. I had no idea what they would grow to become or if I would want to save the seed, but I figured that I would cross that bridge once I got there.

Another carosello is bagged

The below figure shows how the three carosello varieties grew. Either because of differences in lighting or genetics, the Carosello Medium Long of Barese began producing male flowers first, followed by the unknown carosello variety, followed by the Medium Long of Tarantino. 

The red, yellow and blue represent times in which the plant was not being impacted by another variety while the orange and green represent times in which there was an overlap in pollination of one variety and another. Looking back on this illustration, the time period of overlap is much longer than the time period without an overlap of pollination.

As the female fruit develops, the mesh bags can be removed

For those who are not familiar with monecious vining fruit development, there will usually be many male flowers that begin forming on the plant long before the female fruit begin to grow. Thus, there are generally unused male flowers for a space of time until the female flowers begin to form. When growing one carosello variety, the bees transfer pollen from male flowers to the female flowers of the same cultivar, keeping the variety genetically pure. The first variety to produce female flowers, the Medium Long of Barese had female flowers that were pollinated by both its own male flowers as well as the unknown carosello. This could have been a problem had I wanted to save the seed, but because I decided not to save this variety for seed, I pulled the cucumbers before they produced seed. By the time I began growing the other two carosello varieties, I had pulled the Medium Long of Barese. Pulling the whole plant is only one option to isolating cucumber varieties.

Example of pulling the female fruit to maintain purity (more will develop)

Pulling the female fruit is something that I had to do with the first batch of female fruit that were produced unknown carosello variety. Once I realized that I wanted to keep seed from the unknown carosello cucumber I did two things. First, I pulled all the male flowers from the Medium Long of Tarantino. Then I pulled all female flowers from the unknown variety – as these may have crossed. Finally, I put small mesh bags over the female flowers to keep bees from pollinating the flowers. As some wild bees can be very small, it is important that if a gardener chooses to do this, that the mesh be small enough to keep these bees from accessing the female flower. This method requires checking the female flowers each morning, as the window of fertility for some female flowers can be anywhere between 24 and 48 hours long.

From this point on, I hand pollinated several of the unknown carosello cucumbers. Once I had hand-pollinated these cucumbers, I used bread ties to mark the selfed (pure) fruit. Then, after the Medium Long of Tarantino began producing female fruit, I pulled all the male flowers off of the unknown carosello variety.

Maintaining Cucumber purity through pulling off male flowers

A pile of mostly unused male flowers

It can be difficult to keep up with pulling flowers to maintain variety purity

The bread tie signifies a selfed (pure) fruit for seed

So –if you want to grow multiple varieties of cucumber at the same time here are a few ideas:

1. Do not allow the female flowers from all but one of the varieties to fully mature at any one time.

2. Pull all the male flowers from all varieties you do not want pollinating other female flowers.

3. Once a female fruit or two have set on one plant, remove all other side branching vines (that are not supporting that fruit) and male flowers to eliminate crossing with a second plant.

4. Use a barrier to keep pollinators from doing their job. This can be something like mesh or even
something like an enclosed greenhouse. 

5. Put out transplants very early in the season so that the fruit can be hand-pollinated before bees find your plants.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Unknown Oval Carosello

One of my Italian friends named Angelo provided me with a carosello variety that was labeled “unknown”. Until 2018, I never had time to grow it out and I was becoming ever more curious as to what it could be. So, next to my Medium Long of Taratino and My Medium Long of Barese I grew an unknown variety.

August 6th

June 9th, 2018.

June 12th

June 16th

June 23rd

I started all three around late June/Early July and grew it out until about September 8th. I believe that the Carosello Barese was the first to grow out its fruit, followed by the Unknown variety, then the Medium Long of Tarantino. This meant that I had just enough time to determine what the Medium Long of Barese was before the bees had already pollinated the female flowers of the unknown variety.

June 27th

Keeping this variety pure when growing it next to two other varieties was quite a challenge. It required some isolation and quite a bit of effort. I’ll go into how I isolated this variety a little more in another post.

August 1st

Most of the fruit started out light colored with minimal, if any, dark coloring. I would definitely say that this variety was partially photosensitive in that the dark green color on the fruit develops faster when exposed to sun than when the carosello matures in the shade.

The flavor of this variety is incredibly juicy and tender. I would definitely compare it to the Carosello Barese. I would say it is much like the Carosello Barese except that it is much more colorful.

August 10th

September 3rd

September 8th, 2018.

So in short, this is something of a mystery Carosello that tastes similar to a Carosello Barese but looks like a mix between a splotched Mandurian Round and a Carosello Massafrese.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Corn in the Fertile Garden

Though I do not grow corn myself, I do quite enjoy seeing it grown and eating it. My friend who owns the fertile garden enjoys summer garden so much that he will occasionally grow it.

The principal reason why I do not grow corn is because I cannot save high quality seed from small plots of land, like I can do with some other seed varieties. This is why I prefer to grow plants to seed that experience very low pressures from inbreeding depression. The smaller the plants and the less inbreeding depression they experience, the less you need to continue to produce seed for future use.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Carosello Mezzo Lungo Barese

In 2018 I was looking for a couple of new varieties. I was interested to see if there was any huge difference between the very ancient variety of the Carosello Medium Long of Barese that my friend Angelo provided to me and the usual variety offered by seed companies.


The seed for this variety had been given to me back in 2013 and was probably old seed then. Fortunately, the seed did germinate (slowly) but took off as soon as planted in the fertile garden. Apparently - incredibly fertile soil has the capacity to bring about miracles with older seed. Perhaps it has to do with the healthy bacteria in the soil. In any case, everything grew quite quickly until I had to pull the plant.

Why pull the plant you ask? It is because I was having to isolate the carosello from the unknown carosello variety and the Medium Long of Tarantino. With having to go back to the garden almost every morning to ensure female flower purity, I was getting worn out. I had already grown a Mezzo Lungo Barese and honestly – this carosello can be a little too crisp for some of us. So, in short, the Medium Long of Barese vines were culled to make room for some more interesting carosello varieties.