Valley Bounty: Cucumbers

Early May represents an in-between season when storage coolers are close to empty but the earliest field crops haven’t come in yet. Fortunately, farmers across the Valley have developed many creative techniques to make sure there’s a supply of local vegetables during this shoulder season. I recently spoke with Gideon Porth, owner of Atlas Farm in Deerfield. To my surprise, he explained that their first cucumber harvest of the year began last week.

Field cucumbers don’t hit full stride until July, but Porth is able to beat the curve by growing a specially-bred variety of cucumbers in his heated greenhouse. His crew transplanted the young cucumber plants into the ground of the greenhouse at the beginning of March. As the plants grew over the past month and a half, the crew carefully trellised them by clipping the stalks to strings hanging vertically from the top of the greenhouse. “Cucumbers tendril, they’re climbing and vining plants by nature, but they don’t do it very organized on their own,” Porth explained. The plants are already waist-high and by mid-June, they’ll be nearly eight feet tall.

Keeping the cucumbers pruned, with plenty of space for air flow, is essential. Diseases are always a serious threat and 15% of Atlas’s greenhouse cucumber plants were already knocked out this year by crown rot, which weakens the stem at ground level. During mid-May, Porth’s struggle against foliar diseases attacking the leaves will begin. By the end of June, the greenhouse cucumbers will likely reach the end of their run, just in time for the beginning of field cucumber season.

Porth describes his early season cucumbers as smaller than field cucumbers. They have thinner skin, smaller seeds, and a sweet taste with a crunchy texture. He loves to slice them into medallions and sprinkle on some rice vinegar, salt, and pepper for a refreshing afternoon snack.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)