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Cucumbers, an endangered species - September 2014

It's that time of year when I start to plan ahead for next year. Partly this is because I'm a compulsive planner who always gets ahead of myself and forgets to stand and admire what is here right now, but partly it's a sensible idea to take a look at what the garden is producing now, what we have too much of and what we are really enjoying (or missing) eating.

More and more I look towards what will store in planning what to grow. The living is indeed easy in summertime, with summer veg thrown at you like tennis balls from a serving machine. But I need to eat, and eat well, year-round, and I don't want to be eating cabbage, leeks and parsnips for eight months of the year. I want interesting, preferably, sun-soaked, food for as much of the year as possible. I don't want to be putting veg on the compost heap in August and buying veg in the supermarket in January.

That is the reason why the number of runner bean plants in my patch has dwindled to a token three or four plants. They are just too prolific for too short a time, and demand much in the way of picking and watering during that period. Yes, I enjoy them fresh, and yes you can theoretically freeze, salt or chutney them, but every runner bean I have ever preserved has lingered in the freezer or cupboard for a couple of years before being binned. That's just a waste of time and energy all round. French beans freeze much more satisfactorily, and are quicker to prepare, and borlotti beans make much better shelling beans. So runners have gone almost to the brink of extinction in my garden, almost but never quite.

Plants that I love are those such as winter squash, that demand little other than water to produce good crops that store without processing for six months or so. 'Without processing' is an important advantage when August and September are flat out bottling, chutneying, freezing, drying, jamming months. Bright orange pumpkin and chilli soup is our ultimate sun-filled comfort food right through winter and the hungry gap. Tomatoes are proper prima donnas with a short season, but they store in a dozen different ways, and with just some dried borlottis and some spices, make great summer food for the depths of winter.










Courgettes score high on the too-high-productivity-for-too-short-a-period scale, but I forgive them because they are easy to fry up and pop in the freezer. Defrosted in the frying pan, with some pine kernels, cheese and pasta stirred through, they make a quick and almost-good-as-august lunch. So the courgettes are staying, particularly the patty pan and the yellow ones.

Cucumbers, though, are in the frame. They take up critical indoor space, need constant pampering, throw fruit at you with abandon for a few short weeks, and then sulk and stop if you don't pick them fast enough. Theoretically, you can preserve them by pickling, but the last jar of pickled cucumbers that I made lingered in the cupboard for three years before hitting the bin. Every year I compost cucumbers, and it is such a waste of space and effort. The trouble is, I always grow more than I need owing to their propensity to drop dead in youth, but I think a gap in the cucumber supply wouldn't ruin my summer the same way a gap in the lettuce or tomatoes would, so they may go down to just one plant in the corner of the greenhouse next year. There are so many interesting crops that can be grown under glass, from jicama and sweet potato, to water chestnuts, that I have a feeling that there is a better value crop out there waiting to be discovered.

Melons, likewise, take up much undercover space and energy and cannot be stored. Right now I have 16 melons on the kitchen worktop, and eating them is about to change from being a delight to being a chore. Next year it's time to experiment with outdoor melons, with I think just one plant in the greenhouse.

So enjoy your prime position while you can, cucumber and melon plants, your days are numbered!

The first batch of squashes, about 50kg so far!

Crown prince winter squash