The Armenian Cucumber Martini

What with too many gophers and not enough bees, our vegetable garden is not as abundant as we’d hoped. Even the several varieties of summer squash, which usually can be counted on to produce more than the most ardent squash lover can eat, aren’t setting much fruit.

Deciding to drown our horticultural sorrows we needed a garnish for the martinis. Something different…there, on the counter! An Armenian cucumber. It’s in the same family as the squash but is setting fruit much better. They’re slender, pale green, and curl into a circle. Let’s give it a try.

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Into the glass goes a slice.

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Verdict by the resident Martini expert? “Cool and refreshing. I think I like that better than olives!”

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We’ve also enjoyed these cucumbers sliced up in soups. Turns out, though, that while they look and taste like cukes they’re technically melons, Cucumis melo var. flexuosus. True cucumbers are Cucumis sativus.

Bees in the garden, and strange habits of gophers

Mint is fine as a culinary herb, but plant it in the ground and it’s like having a tapeworm: you’ll never get rid of it and it just gets bigger. I keep pulling and slashing away at the mint planted by a previous resident, to no avail. The tiniest piece of root or stem will grow a new plant if it finds a little water. Stems flop to the ground and root, new plants pop up from seed or wandering underground invasive roots. And somehow it even hangs on, once established, here in the long hot dry summer.

And here it is, in bloom! I was irked until I saw how much “our” honeybees were enjoying the flowers. (I’ve posted before about the small hive of honeybees in a cavity in a dead oak tree on our place.)

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The wire fence in the background encircles our vegetable garden; the mint just loves it in there, where there’s regular watering. If only the gophers would use the mint as a garnish for the vegetable plants they devour: every single sweet pepper plant (7 plants!) was sucked down into the ground by the gophers this year. It happens overnight as if the plants walked away, but dig and you will find remans. And the gophers tunnel around the roots of other plants which they don’t seem to eat, but the plants die anyway.

For ten years I waged war against the gophers until the futility of it sank in. I tried everything: a trap––lots of work to dig in the stony dry ground looking for a straight open run of tunnel, and the trap never caught one anyway; gassing them with exhaust via a pipe from the car to a tunnel opening (yes, there is a specialized flexible pipe sold just for this purpose, I’m not the only anti-gopher fanatic out here)––results apparently nil, though how can you tell?; curses and exhortations; and dozens and dozens of sulfurous poison gas bombs, like big firecrackers that you light and stick into a tunnel you’ve excavated, then cover it up so the smoke goes through the tunnel system. Or that is the theory. Within a few uses the gophers were changing their tunnels: adding right angles and frequent backfilled partitions. Even stranger, they often dug back to the site of a “Gopher Gasser”, then up to the surface, and left me a message:

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That’s the carefully ejected remnant of the “Gopher Gasser” placed right on top of the new pile of dirt! If you look closely you can imagine the little thought balloon above it…

After seeing the bees busy in the mint I checked out their activity elsewhere. This is one of the big “bumblebees” or so we call them, on a Caryopteris plant (a hybrid cross between C. incana and C. mongholica ‘Bunge’, with cultivars such as “Bluebeard” or “Blue Mist Spiraea”).

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There were honeybees on this plant too, but more of the big guys.

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One was clinging upside down, sheltering under a leaf because the sprinkler had been on this plant earlier.

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I like to watch the industrious behavior of the bees; if only I could feel that way about the gophers. Well, maybe a mint julep would help…

Keeping deer out of the garden

Deer love tender new leaves and can leap tall fences at a bound. We see them all the time, on our rural property outside the fenced area where the dogs have free range. But we’ve never had one get into our vegetable garden which is bordered on the back by that main fence, and on the other three sides by fences to keep our dogs out. The fences are well under five feet tall, nothing for a deer to jump. Our garden is in raised beds about three feet wide and varying in length; between the wooden sides of the beds, the walkways are about two and a half feet wide. My theory is, that deer (like other hoofed animals) are concerned about having good footing when they jump into a place, and the narrow spaces and mixture of heights doesn’t look safe or inviting.

Outside our fence I have been trying for over eight years to get trees and tall plants established in a bare spot to make a visual barrier between us and our neighbor’s two-story place. Poor soil and hot dry weather have been the major problem, but then the deer have chowed down on most everything that I have kept alive except some weeping willows I started by sticking branches in the ground. I’ve tried old remedies, new remedies, and wacky ideas: Mylar pinwheels, hanging scented soap, rotten egg spray, flapping hanging things tied to the trees, systemic bittering agents put in the soil, glittery hanging things like metallic beads, Mylar streamers, and aluminum pie plates (reputed to work to repel birds eating ripening fruit). Never did try hanging little bags of human hair trimmings, a method with a following. I bought dehydrated coyote urine but then on the drive home thought about how it must have been collected, and went back and returned it with an explanation to the wild bird store, and I believe they stopped carrying it. It might have worked, but the confinement needed to produce it was unacceptable.

I went so far as to lay down landscape cloth around the trees and then on top of that peg down that plastic-netting fencing used for temporary barriers. I put it down horizontally: it did a good job of tripping me up all the time but the deer did not seem to be affected. And soon falling leaves covered it, weeds rooted in the decomposed leaves, and it was buried.

Finally I decided to mimic what worked in the garden and I used wide plastic tape, like crime scene tape or the fiberglass tape used on drywall seams, to divide the tree area into many narrow portions. It worked! I put it at varying heights between 2 – 4 feet, going around a tree trunk or stake and then off at an angle to another point. I’ve now moved to using bright yellow polypropylene rope because the tapes didn’t hold up to uv exposure, and the stronger rope is easier for me to get over or under when working out there. Once the trees get tall enough, it can be removed; without some protection, nothing but the original willows will ever get that tall. It’s not too scenic, but I don’t care, and the neighbors–I think they probably prefer it to the flapping plastic trash bags!