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New Cucumber For 2010

Cucumber: Touch of Gold

Cornell breeder's gave the working number NY04-722-N to the cross Marketmore 97FF x Boothby's Blonde F2.  I suspect that the F1 hybrid resulting from the original cross probably produced only green cucumbers since green color is dominant in cukes. The F2 seed I received resulted from the crossing of two of those F1 sibs.  So, out of this second generation seed, I saw a percentage of plants producing the recessive white trait in cucumber skin color of the Boothby's parent, a nice heirloom cuke from Maine.  We grew the F2 in 2005 as a participant farm in the Organic Seed Partnership with the understanding that we would work with the breeding material Cornell furnished to us as an "unfinished" project and finish the selection process on our farm.  The idea is that having the farmer do the selection on the basis of the particular stresses that the crop faces in the farmers field will result in a selection more adapted to the farmer's field instead of Cornell's field.  Since most modern day varieties were developed on fields of conventional agriculture with a chemical fertilizer and pest control regimen dominating the growth conditions;  the organic farm community correctly felt that if selection is done on an organically managed field then the resulting variety will be more adapted to the regimen of an organic farmer.  In addition, since the organic farmer often sells directly to the consumer; additional selection criteria include the acceptance by the farmers customers.

Our sandy fields have never seen chemical pest controls but they are in transition as a managed ecological system and we figure if a crop can succeed here, it can probably succeed in many gardens.  "Touch of Gold" is our most recent selection out of Cornell's Marketmore x Boothby's Blonde cross.  There are also selections from this same cross that Cornell and Organic Seed Partnership participating farmers have been working on.  One cross can lead to a number of different selections.  We haven't seen those other selections but they sound impressive and we look forward to their release over the next few years.   Of special interest is a selection which is very resistant to powdery mildew which is a problem in some regions when growing the non resistant Boothby's Blonde.

While our selection does not show the resistant to pm that one of the parents, Marketmore has, "Touch of Gold" is a prolific bearer of nice cukes with a definite Boothby's Blonde look.  A small percentage of plants are gynoecious (produce all female flowers).  The young fruit may show a slight pale green but as they ripen develop a slight golden highlight at the stem end of the fruit.  The handsome fruit gets good reviews for fresh eating flavor and also as a whole pickle from those who have done taste tests from our production.  We still get some plants that bear green cukes.  When we can finally identify those plants that bear green cukes (often bearing later than the whites), we rip them out and then pick off all the fruit and blossoms on the remaining plants in our entire patch.  We find it easier to do this than to hand pollinate the small flowers; and since all of our whites have been selected over the last few years for a tasty, productive, good quality pickling cukes we can let them produce with reckless abandon for our seed crop.  "Touch of Gold" is a black spined cucumber which ripens to bright orange when the seeds are ready to save.

By the way, the green fruit that show up on occassion when planting "Touch of Gold" is also a very fine cucumber but if you are saving seed to produce white cukes in the future, you will want to rogue out the plants that produce the greens as we do here at Flanders Bay Farm.

Notice that the original F2 produced the long greenish fruit very suggestive of the Marketmore parent but also similar long fruit in the Boothby's shade of cream.  There were other variations that appeared in the F2 generation which was noteworthy; for example, the gynoecious trait of some plants.  These few plants produced masses of female flowers and the most fruit and a some of the unfinished selection"Touch of Gold" has this trait.  After several generations, we have selected a productive, nice tasting cuke.

Above is a selection after two years of working on the project. We were a bit premature when we showed the above slide and declared it's powdery mildew resistance.  The selection process after several more years yielded the cukes is below.   We sent to several friends to taste-test sliced fresh as well as pickled.  The fruit is a distinctive productive pickle cuke which is just so beautiful.  When the cukes develop the "gold touch" they are at their peak in flavor.  Unfortunately, although it is bears cukes through several weeks of early summer, "Touch of Gold" will succumb to powdery mildew.  We probably could have traded off some of the qualities that we like in order to maintain the PM resistance.  We could have also done an effective screening of young seedlings by spraying with the powdery mildew (select powdery milder infested plants from a friends greenhouse and blend with some water into a sprayable solution.  What seedlings survive are planted into the field.  You are still welcome to do a pm screen if you want since "Touch of Gold" is not stabilized and may still be segregating.

Our Other Cucumbers:

At the farm, "Touch of Gold" is the most striking cuke but we continue to work with our "green pickle", a selection from a mass cross of kirby cukes that we planted a number of years ago.  Of all the cucumbers, "green pickle" was the favorite of the deer who plucked all but a few from the vines this year.  We highly recommend the technique of a mass cross.  First, a little history of "green pickle".  We grew about 10 varieties of kirbys that we were evaluating for a pickle cuke including heirlooms and hybrids and let them cross.  Instead of settling on one we liked, there were three or four kinds that had admirable traits (one being that they survived the summer in our unimproved sand lot without irrigation and maintained good shape).  Saving the fruit from those different kinds which had undoubtedly been crossed by pollinating insects and growing them out the next year revealed more survivors and more qualities to select for.  Selection for flavor, texture, looks (the classic pickle ratio); productivity, pest and disease resistance and vigor on our sandy soils is our mandate.  Sure, there may be lots of pickling cucumber varieties available but this one will become; in time, uniquely ours and adapted to our soils, our weather, our pests and our preferences.  Last year we planted out some forty plants of our Long Island Green Pickle Cuke and saw every single plant trashed by our marauding herd of deer who favored these above all other cukes in the garden.

The year after we did the mass kirby cross we planted a dozen commercial hybrid slicing cucumbers in a friends field.  Since some of these were only available as treated seed hybrids it was an opportunity to produce fresh clean F2 seed.  I really don't like chemically treated seed.  I know many in the agriculture community believe that treated and even encapsulated seed (in the future) is the way to go;   I just don't see the need.  I have light soils that warm up and dry out early in the season.  I rather like the fungus hyphae that mingle with the roots of my plants and give them the resiliance and vigor that I notice in my crops.  I don't particularly like absorbing fungicides from treated seed through my skin and I don't like the idea of poisoning my benificial mycorrhizae fungus along with the fungi that cause seed planted too early to rot in cold, wet ground.  Maybe I digress.

The next year we planted our slicer cross, we interplanted "sweet" asian slicers with the F2's and allowed them to cross pollinate.  We saved seed from the best performing, healthiest vines that also produced normal looking dark green slicing cucumbers.    We didn't get a chance to grow them out for the last two summers; but this year we did and we can say that we're optimistic that we have some very interesting breeding material to work with in the years ahead.    That's what a mass cross can do for you and despite what some people say about introducing hybrids into the mix, we say go right ahead and maximize your diversity.  Diversity is what the breeder wants;  here is where the desired traits will be selected from.

Why didn't I take a picture of the diversity of our "slicer mass cross"?  The cucumber "slicer mass cross" seed still hadn't been planted at the time of this photo since we wanted to space the cucumber varieties out in separate fields but also in time/space.  Flanders Bay Farm is in zone 7 and we have the luxtury of a long growing season so we can prevent crossing by planting many of our projects several weeks apart.  We will tag the last fruit from one patch of cukes that will be allowed to mature as a seed crop by the time another cuke patch is allowed to produce it's first fruit.  Here you can see our drip lines that we extended to the front garden which really increase what we can do with our sandy soils and have turned our interests away from selecting for dought tolerance out of necessity.

We grew the fifth generation of what was marketed as an asian hybrid which is still the same cuke it was in year one which only goes to show you that  even though it might be marketed as a hybrid; it may not act like a hybrid or indeed actually result from a cross of dissimilar parents.  I have heard that quite a few marketed "hybrids" are really not true hybrids.  Folks expect to pay more for "hybrid" seed which may require expensive hand pollination techniques.  People also don't grow seed crops from "hybrids" so they are safe from being propagated by other seed producers unless the parentage is made known by the breeder.  There are reasons a company might want to call their product a hybrid and generally, there is no one who will bother to verify that it is or isn't.  My asian white cucumber is probably a case in point.  The retailer assumes that the wholesaler has correctly described the cultivar as an open pollinated type (standard) or an F1 Hybrid.  It may not be a correct assumption.  The long white fruits of our asian cuke are very attractive but the productivity and plant vigor while good, doesn't match the other cukes we grow and we will probably stop growing crops of it unless we decide to use it as a parent in a future breeding project.  We have become excited about a group of cucumbers from China that are rampant climbers and bear long, crispy and sweet warty fruit.  There are a half dozen selections that we have that show a very pretty gradation in color from green to white at the blossom end.

Last Modified:  Jan, 2010