Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sneaky, Wild, Prickly and Bitter Cucumbers

Mystery Plant in Neal's Plot
The ground is dry as a bone at the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden since we haven’t received a smidgen of rain in over a week and less than an inch of rain the week before that.   However, while that means more work lugging watering cans from our tanks to our seedlings, that doesn’t mean we stop learning or growing or planting or harvesting.  This week, we learned a bit about wild and prickly cucumbers.

On Wednesday, I watered for a couple of hours and pulled my spent red pea beans.  Neal was there watering as well.  We admired Frank and Barb for mowing our shaggy lawn (even though it was not their chore this month; it is Neal's).  Sadly, I discovered that one of our watering cans (which I purchased in 2010 from Target) had split at the seams and needed to be repaired and/or replaced.  Sigh.
Wild cucumber => Not a melon
I cooked and canned 3 pints each of salsa and arrabiata pasta sauce and one quart of kosher dill pickles this week.  I learned from the National Center for Home Food Preservation as I was making the salsa that I no longer need to pre-sterilize my canning jars before filling them if they will be processing in boiling water for at least ten minutes (which virtually all of my recipes do).  This will GREATLY reduce the heat and humidity in my kitchen this summer as I “put up” my tomatoes, sauces and fruits.  Of course, the jars still need to be cleaned in advance.
I returned to the SACG on Friday morning for a couple of hours to plant snow and snap peas, pull my bush beans and harvest a few feet of potatoes.  Sabrina was there harvesting, pulling spent lettuce plants and watering as well and pitched in to weed part of our Garden path even though it was not her chore.  (It is Neal's).  She was hoping that it would rain this weekend and so did not water her entire plot.   She is graduating with her B.S. degree from The Ohio State University today and did not have a lot of time to spare (since she has family coming in for the well-deserved celebration).   She was every bit as thrilled as I was to learn that our mason jars do not need to be pre-sterilized because she was planning to can tomatoes that afternoon.
I went shopping for a new watering can and didn’t like my options at Lowe’s.  Too small or poor watering nozzle. I don't have endless amounts of time to drive all over Central Ohio looking for a new can, so, I ordered one off of Amazon (through to financially benefit the SACG).   Our new can should arrive on Monday or Tuesday.
Wild cucumber also known as prickly cucumbers
On Saturday, I arrived a bit earlier than usual and spent my first hour harvesting another foot or so of potatoes from my plot, cleaning the mint out of Krystle’s old plot and then planting turnips and beets in her old plot.  I spent the next two hours watering the raised beds next door, the neighbor bed along the alley, our four food pantry plots, our herb garden and then my plot.   Around noon, I turned to harvesting for myself and our weekly food pantry donation.  Because, as faithful readers may recall, my harvest was cut short last Saturday by an untimely (ahem) rain, our zucchini were a gawd-awful size this week.  That made our pantry donation almost 30 pounds.  Whew.  I also harvested a load of beans (which is very time consuming), so it took me about two hours – an hour longer than I had budgeted.   Because I was too late for the food pantry, I drove our donation, instead, to Faith Mission’s Homeless Shelter downtown (near the corner of Grant and Naughten).   They were very nice.  Rather than making me unload my collapsible crate (which I picked up at the June GCGC meeting), they just exchanged one of theirs for it.
Neal stopped by as I was about to harvest my last items for the day (the kale, greens, herbs and flowers).   He’s had an adventurous gardening season this year.  He really only gardens to have fresh cucumbers and likes having beans, tomatoes and peppers, too.  He never takes anything from me.  I try not to be insulted.  Instead, he buys all of his seedlings elsewhere.  (He can afford it.  Whatever).  However, he doesn’t really know anything about gardening and he picked up what he thought were cucumbers (because they were in the cucumber row at the garden center or nursery), but they had been errantly put there by another lazy shopper.  So, instead of four cucumber plants to plant along his spiffy new trellises, he had two cucumber plants, a zucchini plant (which promptly became infested with squash bug eggs) and a mystery plant that I thought for the longest time was a watermelon because of the shape of its leaves.  We pulled the zucchini out (since he wasn’t passionate about it enough to keep on top of the squash bug problem) and decided that there were worse things to harvest than watermelons.  
Immature wild cucumber
As you can see from my pictures, these were strange looking melons.  They were the right shape and color, but they had porcupine spikes all over them.  There were a lot of them and they weren’t getting very big as the summer progressed.  I conducted some research and I couldn’t find anything that looked like them or sounded like them on the internet.  So, yesterday, I suggested that he take one home and cut it open to figure out what it might be.  Instead, he gave me one to do that.  I took it home, sliced it in half and smelled it.  Cucumber.  I emailed him so.  He emailed back a question about how he was supposed to eat it. 
I went online and discovered it is called a prickly cucumber or a wild cucumber.  It’s supposed to be inedible.  But I wondered if that meant it tasted bad or was poisonous.  The articles I found were not terribly scientific, so I decided to get a grapefruit spoon and try it.  BIG MISTAKE.  VERY, VERY, VERY BITTER.  Gargling did not help.  Nor did wine.    Imagine the bitter taste of cucumber skin times one thousand and you’ll have an idea.  Tasting something labeled inedible was incredibly stupid. I emailed my doctor (Vikki)  to ask if I was going to die like Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild from eating wild potatoes that destroyed his digestive system.  She emailed me back that she was on vacation (again) in Maine and not sure that she planned to ever return.  Cold comfort.    I emailed Neal and told him not to eat it.  I plan on telling everyone (except, of course, our faithful readers) that I tasted it on a dare.  Neal was smart to trick me into it.   I’m sure he’s laughing about it still.  That crazy Neal.
The University of Minnesota calls wild cucumbers an invasive weed which should be pulled.  Because the vines can climb and almost engulf trees, they are more of a problem in shelterbelts and rural areas.”  I hope Neal pulls it soon even though his plant is in no danger of overtaking our invasive morning glory vines, or even his other vegetables.
Although I was exhausted from a long day of gardening and dangerous tastings, I still made it to the free ProMusica concert at Franklin Park Conservatory last night.  It was a beautiful evening.  It would have been even better if the Columbus Police Department helicopter hadn’t decided to keep flying over the grounds to see what we were doing.  It’s a little hard to hear Mozart over helicopter blades.  It’s not like it was chasing down a fleeing suspect or anything.  How rude.  There’s a final free concert tonight (of Beethoven).  WOSU has been trying to record the concerts, but I have to wonder if it was successful with the rude police helicopter buzzing about.   I guess we'll find out in a couple of months. 

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