Friday, April 28, 2023

Transplanting Sensitive Seedlings using Strawberry Baskets, or Tills

At the same time as I was planning out my Mezzo Lungo carosello trial, I was looking for a replacement for 4-inch soil blocks. Having sold off my 4 inch cubic soil blocker in 2020, I worked off and on throughout the winter to find a comparable replacement for the need to “pot up” 2 inch soil blocks. The issue is that if the plot where the 2” soil blocks are supposed to be planted is not ready, then the roots will struggle to continue to grow. Past experience taught me that this only results in stressed plants that will only experience pests and disease as a result. To avoid this problem, I needed a 4” solution. I looked at net cups, hydroponic baskets and square Vanda orchid baskets – but all of these solutions usually ended up not being large enough, not being the right shape to fit in a 10x20 seedling tray or being much too expensive to be practical.







Eventually, I ended up finding strawberry baskets. These would allow the soil to be mostly contained and the roots to grow through the gaps. After purchasing and returning old cheap baskets from Amazon that were the wrong size, I purchased s dozen nearly 4” square green plastic strawberry till baskets from Glacier Valley Enterprises – just to try out. While shipping for the initial product was expensive and the shipping for the actual product was worse, the baskets worked wonderfully. Though I was not necessarily wanting to use the baskets for all my planting, I realized that to get a head-start on my spring garden, I needed to have the baskets ready to go.







Good thing I had those baskets ready, because they really saved the day when the plot for my 2” seedlings was not ready to go. I was able to transplant my cucumber seedlings into the 4” strawberry baskets and the plants were able to grow until to full maturity – when I had to remove each plant and its plastic basket. 




So here are the pros and cons of utilizing Strawberry Baskets for transplanting seedlings with sensitive roots: 



-These containers buy the gardener 2-4 weeks more time for the garden bed to be ready

-It is quick and easy to put soil into the container and pot-up the 2” soil block

-Easy to transplant the 4 inch container into the ground

-The container is reusable and is easy to wash using a dish-scrubbing brush




-You have to go back and find the plastic container. This can be a bit of a chore – especially if the plant died prematurely or if transplanting in clay soils.

-There is a possibility of leaving some of the plastic in the ground

-Sometimes the container can be damaged and need to be thrown away.

-The containers are probably not UV resistant, meaning that they do not hold up well to sun damage.

-While the containers are reusable, they still need to be washed

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Gagon Cucumber

Prior to a 6-week trip, I tried to acquire access to part of the fertile garden for growing out a very long-season cucumber variety, called the Gagon. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out – so instead I ended up waiting until July 21st to start the long-season Gagon cucumber variety.

The Gagon is a very long-season very large Indian/Himalayan type cucumber. I would classify it as a storage cucumber. While the plants grew quickly, it took them quite a while to produce. By the time they began to lose strength (due to decreased light and an onslaught of aphids) only a handful of vines had actually produced fruit. The rest had either immature fruit or primarily male flowers.


















Of all the cucumbers that I grew last year, this was one of the heaviest varieties. I harvested the last of the fruit October 23rd. Some of the fruit weighted well over 5 pounds.

Friday, April 14, 2023

The Facussa

Sometime after 1500, after Italian sailors had colonized the islands around Sardinia, they brought over a group of Tunisians from Africa to colonize the area. Along with other things, these Tunisians brought with them seeds of a long somewhat striped cucumber that they called “Faguss” or “Faqous”, which in Arabic means “cucumber”. While the cucumber did very well in its new land, the Tunisians did not. Over time conflict erupted between the Italian sailors and colonists on one side and the once-native Tunisians, who were sent back to their homeland. One thing that was not sent back to Tunisia was the splotchy striped cucumber. Now in the hands of the Italians, the colonists continued to grow this summer fruit under the Italianized name of Facussa.






























Primarily grown on the island of San Pietro, Sardinia, the Facussa is a light slender Armenian-type cucumber that exhibits bands of dark splotching. In Italy, longer Armenian-type cucumbers are referred to as Tortarello. This specific Cucumis melo variety flexuous is picked immature from heat-loving vines that produce a continuous harvest of long beautiful fruit. The main town on San Pietro Island, Carloforte, which was founded sometime around 1738 still offers this variety in its markets from June through late August.























Unfortunately, due to some health concerns I am not able to visit the town of Carloforte in mid to late summer when these cucumbers are prolific. Despite my inability to travel to the isolated island, and due to a fortunate series of events that required many months to transpire (along with divine intervention) I was gifted some seed of the Facussa. I will say that, even with help from others, anything worthwhile in life often requires a great deal of effort.

In order to ensure the success of the Facussa, I started it as soon as possible after planting out the seedlings in my Mezzo Lungo carosello trial, around May 7th. This was both good and bad. It was good, because it allowed me a long amount of time to care for the plants before planting. It was bad because the plot that these plants was to be grown in was not ready when anticipated. I had to pot up my plants from 2 inch soil blocks to 4 inch strawberry tills to 10 inch hydroponic baskets while waiting for a spot for the plants to open up. The difference of time required to plant a 2 inch soil block is significantly less than planting a 10 inch hydroponic basket. While a 2” soil block requires a couple minutes to plant, a 10” hydroponic basket can require 15-20 minutes or more to plant each basket. The issue is not as much getting the hole dug or the basket level as ensuring that the soil is in contact with the entire basket. Ensuring full contact between the basket and the soil is especially difficult when working with clumpy clay soil.


I planted at least a dozen basket transplants in the fertile garden and at least half a dozen in the chicken garden around June 7th and hoped for the very best while I went on a long-anticipated 6-week family trip across the United States.

















After around 5 weeks, I returned to find that most all of the plants were doing quite well. It was some work to pull the sprawling plants apart enough to trellis them, but after several days, I was able to clean up the vines enough that each plant took up a little more space than a conventional tomato cage.























The color and shape of the Facussa did not disappoint. They were both long and beautiful. Most of them were very slender. I tried a few – which were very tasty - and left the remainder of the plants until around August 12th to set mature seed.

Overall, I would say that the texture of the Facussa is very similar to the Dark Armenian cucumber or Tortarello Scuro Barese. It is not quite as nice as the Striped Armenian (AKA Painted Serpent) or as unpleasant as the light Armenian cucumber (AKA Tortarello Abruzzese). As a fun, tasty beautiful cucumber, it is well worth growing out.