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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lemon Cukes From The Yarden

Lemon Cucumber - Cucumis sativus
Lemon Cucumber - Cucumis sativus

About Lemon Cucumbers

Our yarden is full of interesting variations of the hum drum produce bought at the stores.  This year, we tried growing lemon cucumbers, botanically named cucumis sativus.

Along with the lemon cukes, we are growing the straight 8 and Armenian varieties.  They were all started from seed at the same time, but the first ones to show up were the lemon cukes.

Right away, these cukes seemed to be a bit different from the others.  The black dots on the skin of this particular cuke is some kind of thorn, I'm guessing, but has been referred to as more of a five o'clock shadow by others.  The "thorns" do have a texture more like bristly new facial growth.

Lemon Cucumber
Cucumis sativus flower
Aside from the color, shape and the odd "hairs", the flowers seemed to be shaped differently than the flowers we normally see on the other vine varieties.  In the sample flower photo from our garden the flower appears to be a bit askew.

The petals of the lemon cucumber flowers tend to have more petals, are oddly shaped and honestly a bit more interesting than the typical five petal versions.

Our vines are smothered with these flowers, more often of the five petal variety than the six petal varieties.  On other vines, I haven't seen any six petal flowers.

Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus flower and fruit
Lemon Cucumber Cucumis
sativus flower and fruit
Following successful pollination, a bulb appears at the back end of the flowers, the flowers eventually wither and die off, leaving a rectangular type of fruit to grow on.  It was at this time we started looking for information about when a lemon cucumber is ripe and when is it best to eat and what is it used for.
Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus fruits with "belly buttons"
Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus
fruits with "belly buttons"

Another very interesting aspect of the lemon cucumber, which hasn't been noticed on other cucumber varieties is the remnant "belly button" left where the flower was.

In all the information read while researching about these adorable rotund cucumbers, no one ever mentions the "belly buttons", which makes a huge case supporting the lemon cucumbers character distinction from all the others. These really are quite different in appearance than any others.

How Do Lemon Cucumbers Slice Up Against The Others?

Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus fruits sliced
Lemon Cucumber Cucumis sativus fruits sliced
Looks aren't everything...  the big question everyone asks is "how do these lemon cukes slice up in comparison to others?".  The big debate is when to pick them and how do they taste.

I've read some posts that picking the smaller cukes just turning yellow are the best to eat, because there is more flesh than seed, the taste is sweeter and the skin is softer.  To investigate this debate ourselves, we sliced up a just turned yellow cuke, about the size of a golf ball, and a larger brightly striped cuke, about the size of a tennis ball.  
  • Seed To Flesh Ratio:
    If comparing size, the seed to flesh ratio is about the same.  However, the larger cuke is larger, so there is more flesh just by volume.  The seeds are mature, so some can be saved for next planting season.  Picking cukes earlier, will probably not yield mature seeds for replanting later or in the next season.
  • Skin Texture:
    The skin is similar in texture in the smaller and the larger versions of the cuke.  The skin is similar to that of the straight 8, or the dark green long varieties of cucumbers commonly found at the grocery store.  Very edible (I never peel cukes).  The skin of the lemon cuke at the small and large size as picking is not as soft as the Armenian cuke skin.
  • Taste:
    The taste is not discernibly sweeter, or more or less mild by the size of these cukes, but there is absolutely no bitterness in lemon cukes.  I would say lemon cukes are not as sweet as the Armenian cucumbers (which are actually melons, anyway), but they are less bitter than the straight eight cukes.

    We tried no salt and with salt.  There is no distinct "cucumber" flavor normally associated with the straight 8 cucumber.  Some may say lemon cucumbers are bland, but they are pleasantly crunchy and have a nice, crisp feel.  They work well as a replacement for cucumber in any recipe, which includes the one day garlic pickles which everyone I know loves!
All-in-all, we will be keeping and replanting this cucumber variety, as it grows well in our area, is a fast crop and is very interesting to grow.  Want to grow your own?  Find out how at the almanac.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Selfishly Guarding Our Tomatoes, Tomatillos and Eggplants

Tomato cages
We grow our tomatoes, tomatillos and eggplant in containers.  They grow very well.  We have some brandywine red, yellow pear, black krim and principe borghese tomatoes.  We have green and purple tomatillos.  We have black beauty eggplant.

Last year they grew very well.  The only problem is we never were able to eat anything but the yellow pear because every time we made note to pick a red colored tomato the next day, the next day the birds had already pinched them.  It was especially infuriating because the birds didn't eat the entire tomatoes, they just pecked the back of each and every just perfectly ripened red tomato.

This year, we created these tomato cabinets, so to speak.  They are cages with doors in the front and bird netting stapled around the exposed sides and bottom corners to prevent access.  We fastened eye hooks in the mortar of the brick fence at the outside ends and the center of the cages with epoxy and let it set.  We then ran cable through the hooks over the back inside of the frames to hold the cabinets to the block.  We have eye hooks in the door frames for opening and will make a few modifications to ensure they don't swing open erroneously.

Overall, it really "organized" the look of the tomatoes.  Barring any clever birds learning how to open doors, we should be able to enjoy our unmolested red tomatoes for salad, sandwiches, slicing and sun drying.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Farming Aphids In The Yarden

syrphid flies - dioprosopa clavata - four spotted aphid fly - hoverfly - syrphidae - ants - formicidae - aphid - aphidoidea - yardlong beans - fabaceae - v.u. subsp. sesquipedalis
syrphid flies - dioprosopa clavata - four spotted aphid fly - hoverfly - syrphidae - ants - formicidae - aphid - aphidoidea - yardlong beans - fabaceae - v.u. subsp. sesquipedalis
Short Story:  This is an extremely fortunate photo capture of a small group of aphids being herded and farmed by ants and a syrphid fly (four spotted aphid fly) finding it a handy place to lay eggs.

syrphid flies - dioprosopa clavata - four spotted aphid fly - hoverfly - syrphidae - ants - formicidae - aphid - aphidoidea - yardlong beans - fabaceae - v.u. subsp. sesquipedalis
syrphid flies - dioprosopa clavata - four spotted aphid fly
 - hoverfly - syrphidae - ants - formicidae - aphid - aphidoidea
 - yardlong beans - fabaceae - v.u. subsp. sesquipedalis
Longer Story:  We have a lot of ants in our yard.  The ants like to take care of the aphids in our garden to ensure they have constant access to a high energy food source (aphid nectar). Aphids cause a lot of damage to our garden plants and can devastate a small home garden if not kept in check.  Having ants around to protect aphids from many natural predators makes the damage even worse.

Luckily, we have a four spotted aphid fly that is very interested in laying eggs somewhere close to a great food source... like aphids!  With the ants protecting the aphids, I'm not sure the aphid larvae will be helpful in controlling these little aphid farms as well as a chemical intervention.

We'll just have to keep a close eye on the garden to see what works best.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Assassins In The Yarden

Today we discovered two assassins that have moved into the yarden.  Very good news and earlier than expected this year.  Maybe I missed them this time last year, but it is very exciting to see them this year already!

Robber Fly - Assassin Fly - Asilidae
Robber Fly - Assassin Fly - Asilidae
First up is our first ever spotted Robber Fly.  These are from the family Asilidae.  They are also named "Assassin" flies.

Pretty sure this is a Robber Fly because of the indentation between the huge eyeballs and the way the wings are folded back while resting.

By the looks of the abdomen, this fly has been doing pretty well in the area.  Sadly, it could be cleaning up on all the lacewings swarming around our tomato cages.

Maybe not so so bad, because we only really need the lacewings to lay eggs and eat bugs while in their larvae form.  As adults, lacewings pollinate and feed on flower nectar.

Robber flies are ambush assassins.  They usually feed on flying insects.

Zelus renardii - Leafhopper Assassin - Assassin Bug Nymph
Zelus renardii - Leafhopper Assassin - Assassin Bug Nymph
Second and final assassin of the day is the Assasin Bug nymph.  This is a welcome return of the Assassin Bugs, we've had them before and they eat quite a bit!

This is most likely a Zelus renardii nymph, also known as a Leafhopper Assassin bug.  Boy, we need them!  These are part of the Reduviidae family, which is a family of predatory true bugs.

Last year, we spotted two types of Assassin bugs.  The Zelus renardii and a "Wheel Bug", scientifically named Arilus cristatus.  

Seeing these guys at work last year, it was hard to imagine how they managed to catch so many insects.  They seem to move so slowly and clumsily.  I'll post a conglomeration of some really great assassin bug photos from last year some time.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday In The Yarden

First post from the Organic Yarden...

I'm a edible garden enthusiast, and have a few years of gardening under my belt.  We've had some successes, some failures, but have always had fun gardening and eating the harvest.

I love sharing my gardening progress and photos, and this is the reason for starting the blog.  Today, there are a few good shots of what's going on in the garden, and here we go!

Sweat Bee - Halictidae - Lasioglossum - Green Onion - Scallion - Allium Flower
Sweat Bee - Halictidae - Lasioglossum - Green Onion -
Scallion - Allium Flower
In this photo, we have a couple of little bitty sweat bees coupling up on an Egyptian Walking Onion flower.

This is one of only a few excellent coupling captures achieved since regularly photographing the garden.

For some reason, I've always envisioned insects mating similarly to the frogs...  The girl makes her eggs deposit and then the boys come along and fertilize the eggs.  It continues to surprise me.

The Egyptian Walking Onions were grown from some store bought diced up onion stumps.  We just plugged them into the dirt after using what we wanted and they thrived.

Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Principe Borghese' - Sun Drying Tomatoes - Apoidea - Anthophora californica
Lycopersicon lycopersicum 'Principe Borghese' -
Sun Drying Tomatoes - Apoidea - Anthophora californica
We've also been getting lots of love from my absolute favorite bees.  These bees are a type of ground bee.  The name is Anthophora californica.  I haven't noticed any female bees.  The males are identified by white foreheads and thick hind legs.

They are just so darling as they fly around frantically, waving around their derrieres.  This morning a couple of these boys were very amusing when after landing on a flower they began buzzing even more vigorously.  I can only imagine they are trying to shake down more pollen.  I'm not really sure why they were doing it, but it made me laugh.  These boys are quite difficult to photograph, they're so busy and wary.

Chrysopidae - Green lacewings - Apochrysinae - Egg Stalks
Chrysopidae - Green lacewings - Apochrysinae - Egg Stalks
In this photo to the left, we have lacewing eggs.  Lacewings are quite delicate looking, pale green insects that are voracious garden predators in the larval stage.

Lacewings also appear to be very indiscriminate in choosing where to lay their eggs...  any straight line of something will do, I guess.  Not that I'm complaining.  This is a great sign in the garden.  We have future garden predators in the making.

Luckily, this batch of eggs (one of three on this particular cage), will be in very close proximity to our tomatoes and the larvae should have ample food supplies upon hatching.

Ornate Tree Lizard - Urosaurus ornatus
Ornate Tree Lizard - Urosaurus ornatus
The final photo for today is of one of our garden lizards.  It appears to be an "Ornate Tree Lizard", which is a very common reptile in Maricopa County.
This lizard is active during the day, and the males tend to be quite territorial.  They are so skittish, it is difficult to catch them in photos, but this one is decent.  We don't see them during fall or winter, as they hibernate.

These lizards feast on insects including aphids, beetles, flies, ants, bees, wasps, termites, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, and crickets. It also feeds on a variety of spiders.