May 28, 2017

Spring: Days of Cucumber and Amaryllis

Cucumber ‘Richmond Green Apple’

Janine Pineo Photo | Cucumber ‘Richmond Green Apple’

• By Janine Pineo •

It’s a sign when the amaryllis puts up its first leaf: That festive time of year is just around the corner.

Crazy shopping days are ahead, with the car packed full and a rapidly shrinking wallet in your hand.

It will seem as though you just don’t have enough time to get it all done.

While I won’t do the packed-to-the-gunnels car thing for a few weeks more, I am contenting myself with catalog-browsing wish lists and a heavy load of Internet orders.

Don’t you just love this time of year?

By now you may be thinking that this can’t be the right column. You’ve either entered – cue music – “The Twilight Zone” or those silly newspaper people have published the wrong story in some sort of ghastly mistake.

Cue music.

Remember, this is my amaryllis we’re talking about. And I have spent the entire winter waiting for signs of life from the two bulbs I have been nurturing faithfully since November 2003. I haven’t done everything by the book: no cool, dark spot in the fall, no bone meal, no 20-20-20 water-soluble fertilizer monthly.

OK, maybe faithfully nurturing is a stretch. But I have given them plenty of rich, humusy soil in the summers and kept them watered (actually we had record rainfall for the last couple of summers) and pulled them from the raised bed before the frosts hit.

Which boils down to I stuck them in the ground and then I pulled them out of the ground.

Quibble, quibble.

And while it would have been nice to have seen this life say, oh, back in December, I can’t be saddened by signs of life in March.

Ah, March. Spring.

Spring, spring, spring.

Did I mention catalog shopping?

The first of my seed orders has arrived, and I can hardly wait to get the rest of them.

Blame it on the Poona Kheera.

It jumped off the page of the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

“I really need to order some Poona Kheera,” I thought.

But when I went to order Poona Kheera online at Johnny’s, I got a message.
“Seed crop failure.”

Aaaargh.

Fortunately, I had been sleuthing around the World Wide Web because I really wanted to know a bit more about Poona Kheera.

It led me to a couple of interesting sites: www.seedsofindia.com and www.rareseeds.com.

Seeds of India is based in New Jersey and offers, well, you know, seeds of India.

There was Poona Kheera in all its glory, except it seemed a rather pale and sickly glory compared to the picture in the Johnny’s catalog, which was what caught my eye in the first place.

In Johnny’s, Poona Kheera was a red-brown color. Seeds of India pictured pale cream to light green fruits. It also said it was called Puneri and that it was shaped like a potato. The skin turned brown as it matured, the site said.

OK, that mystery was solved. It also proved that Poona Kheera was, indeed, from India.

Then I checked out www.rareseeds.com, otherwise known as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds out of Missouri, which boasts more than 1,000 heirloom varieties from 50 countries.

It didn’t take me long to be impressed.

And that was with just the cucumber section.

Yes, Poona Kheera is an Indian cucumber. Who knew there was an Indian cucumber? Then again, I can’t say I ever pondered whether India had cucumbers.

Make your way through the cucumber section and you will ponder it.

Take a look at the out-of-stock Chinese Yellow, which is good fresh or pickled and produces hundreds of cucumbers from just a few plants. Maybe next year.

I had to order Delikatesse, “pale green with small warts,” from Germany, said to bear well and works fresh or pickled.

Likewise, I couldn’t resist Hmong Red, a variety collected from an immigrant member of the Hmong tribe, which lives on the borders of Thailand, China, Laos and Vietnam. The cucumber is very productive, stays mild when large and changes color from white and pale green to a golden orange when ripe.

Mexican Sour Gherkin intrigued me, perhaps because it isn’t a true cucumber, Cucumis sativus, but Melothria scabra, which is a part of the Cucurbitaceae family. This gherkin is more like a cucumber cousin.
All that probably matters little when you are eating it. And that likely intrigued me the most because it is supposed to taste like cucumbers with a hint of lemon. They also look like miniature watermelons.

What’s not to love?

I also ordered Richmond Green Apple, an heirloom from Australia. Get this: It’s a cucumber called Green Apple that is shaped like a lemon but colored a light green. I can’t wait. (See picture above for the reality.)

Poona Kheera also went into the shopping cart. Here it was described as one of the best for disease resistance, very hardy, very early and very heavy yields.

Very good.

I eyed Sikkim as well, but I just couldn’t justify growing cucumbers 15 inches long by 6 inches wide. At least not this year. This Himalayan variety was “discovered” by a Brit in 1848. He wrote that the fruit was so abundant that the paths were littered with thousands of gnawed remains and it seemed as if every person was “engaged throughout the day in devouring them.”

I’m glad we were talking about just cucumbers.

And while I am tempted, so very tempted, I really must not. Not this year. For if all of the ones I have bought – in addition to my good old standbys – produce, I will be happily up to my eyeballs in cucumbers come August.

And maybe the paths will be littered with thousands of gnawed remains.

Now that could be some sort of ghastly mistake.

First published in the Bangor Daily News in March 2006.

Editor’s Note: The beloved amaryllis long ago gave up the ghost. Sad but true.