The Serendipitous Cucumber Experiment
Serendipity and Gardening
I’ve always loved the concept of serendipity – a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”. In science, I’ve known it to mean “chance favors the prepared mind”. Many great discoveries were serendipitous – the discovery of penicillin, x-rays, Velcro and even the not so great discovery of saccharine (ya know it’s really bad for you, right?).
As a scientist, I loved working in the lab. One of the best things about being a scientist is that you are supposed to experiment. And although the experiments are usually well thought out and designed for a specific goal, sometimes it was fun to just try stuff and see what happened.
We used to joke that it is one of the few professions that lets you “explore creatively”. Try this. What about that? What if we did this?
Sometimes it leads to nothing but if you have the knowledge, odd results could lead to amazing findings.
Not only do I use this approach in cooking and recipe development, but I’ve used it in backyard and patio gardening as well. I like to plant something and see what happens over the life cycle of a plant. To watch and observe.
We have been somewhat nomadic and over the years I’ve planted a lot of things at all the places we have lived. I’ve done a little Internet research and have a companion growing guide called Carrots Love Tomatoes – but my approach is usually to plant it, research it a little and see what happens. We’ve had a lot of failures, which is normal, but we’ve had some really cool successes.
We learned that –
- figs do really well in Austin because the soil is very basic (versus acidic) because of the limestone underneath the layers of soil
- blueberries like an acidic environment (the pine needles in Houston helped create an acidic environment) and need at least one other blueberry plant nearby
- bees love broccoli that is left to flower instead of harvested
- asparagus grows really well in pots of all sizes
- wildflowers bring bees around to help pollinate the plants
The Patio Garden
Last spring we planted a patio garden because we now live in an apartment in Austin. We brought our zinfandel grapevine with us and repotted it. And we planted jalapeños, tomatoes + basil (what grows together goes together), cucumbers, herbs (chives, thyme and oregano), garlic and a few flowers as well.
We added marigolds to the plants, which act as a bug deterrent. And I like to use Organocide Bee Safe 3-in-1 Garden Spray as an insecticide and fungicide. We use organic soil and Lady Bug Fertilizer. And then we got really lucky because it rained a lot!
Although the basil is the gift that keeps on giving and the jalapeño plant is producing peppers like crazy, the real joy of this season has been the cucumber vine.
I love small cucumbers and eat them every day. They are anti-inflammatory and have so many health benefits and just taste wonderful. Off the vine they can be almost as sweet as cantaloupe.
Growing up with a Persian mother and influences of the Mediterranean diet (for the most part) – we were always eating those beautiful little Persian cucumbers. So I tried to grow some and what a wonderful experiment it turned out to be!
I started out with organic seeds from the Natural Gardener here in Austin.
I put four seeds in starter soil in an egg carton and kept it by a window indoors in late February. One little seed sprouted. So I eventually moved it outside into a little pot. And it grew and grew.
So we repotted it in a larger pot with new organic soil with the Lady Bug Fertilizer and it grew some more. The little plant that could!
Then we got the rain. It rained a lot during the spring in Austin and everything in the garden continued to grow. There were so many flowers on the cucumber vine, and little tiny cucumbers but none turned into cucumbers.
So I figured that cucumbers not only need a lot of water but they need a really strong root system as well to produce. So we bought a giant pot, added more new organic dirt and a little more fertilizer then transferred the vine again and moved it onto the lawn to get more sunlight as well.
Then almost overnight, we had cucumbers all over the vine. So many! It kept raining and they kept growing. It was awesome!
Getting Through the Hot Summer
And eventually summer hit and growth yielded. I thought the plant would die off, but it kept growing new vines off of the old ones.
So I decided that I would water everyone in my little patio garden every night before I went to bed. When plants are stressed, just like people, they don’t function well. So a little water every night couldn’t hurt anything…
Well they survived. I couldn’t seem to prune that basil plant enough. I’ve dehydrated so much basil this last year that I have almost an entire cup of dried basil and there is more on the way. It grew really well in the container with the tomatoes.
After pulling flowers during the summer because the roots were fighting for water, I repotted the oregano with the basil and tomatoes because it was struggling on its own. And it is doing much better now, too.
So happily, all my plants survived the hot summer. I left the tomato plant in the container because the basil was still doing really well with it and just cut back most of the dead leaves.
So What About the Cucumber Vine?
I wasn’t really sure what to do with a cucumber vine at the end of its production. Do you let it die out? Do you cut it back? Does it grow back? I have no idea so I just let it keep going to see what would/will happen. Watering every few days instead of every night. If a cucumber would start to grow the vine would die instead.
So it was nearing its end I suppose.
Then we had another few days of really great rain. And when I went out to inspect the vine – I found an incredibly enormous cucumber. What?
So we cut it open and tasted it. It was not good – bitter and tough. And my husband commented that it was really just full giant seeds. And then it hit me – look at all of these seeds!!! Wow!
Little cukes don’t have those kinds of seeds! This plant so full of life from the very beginning gave me seeds to carry on its life while nearing the end. So I extracted and dried the seeds. And will plant a few next season. And continue to observe this plant because it doesn’t seem to be done yet.
I’ve always been fascinated how nature and life always find a way to survive – grass breaks through concrete, weeds defeat Roundup, archeabacteria live in the harshest conditions on the planet and a dying cucumber plant produces all these seeds. Of course it did!
I’m glad I was paying attention and harvested them. I find this good fortune very serendipitous my friends!