There is nothing better during the summer months than to be able to go out into the garden and harvest some fresh fruits and vegetables to eat for a meal. The taste and smell alone of those fresh products enhance the senses unlike any produce you can buy in the store. This is homegrown goodness at its best without the use of chemicals, preservatives, food dyes, waxes and other annoying elements. For anyone who has bought a tomato in the store, you know exactly what I mean. They should not be crunchy, bland and pink when they should actually be red, juicy and full of flavor. This is true for many other items you find in the store, especially when they are out of season. There is nothing like being able to go into your own garden to grab the items you enjoy during the growing season and be allowed to freeze or can it for the winter months.

The cucumbers are beginning to ripen this month (a little late in my garden) and will continue to produce through the first frost. It is one of my favorite vegetables in the garden, even though it is technically classified as a fruit in the melon family.

This fruit has been cultivated for over 3,000 years and originated in India and the Middle East. They prefer to grow in regions that have a temperate to tropical climate with temperatures of 60 to 90 degrees in a sunny location. Although they prefer a rich, well-drained soil, they can also grow in conditions where the soil is poor with good results. Just allow them plenty of moisture when they are producing to encourage healthy fruiting.

People usually plant cucumbers in hills with three to five seeds per hill. As the plants emerge, they grow outward from the center to fill in the space between the hills. Make sure each hill is approximately 5-6 feet apart to allow for the vines to grow without crowding. Each vine can grow up to 8 feet long and have large dark green leaves with fine hairs on them. The vine will produce male flowers first followed by female flowers that produce the cucumbers after pollination. Cucumbers can grow as large as 24 inches long by 3 ½ inches thick depending on the variety, but the best flavors come from the ones that are 8 to 10 inches long by about an inch and a half in thickness. Larger fruits tend to have many more seeds, which many people do not enjoy.

Cucumbers are usually grown in two classifications, as slicers and for pickling. Slicer varieties produce fruit that are typically larger with thicker skins on them. Common varieties would be Dasher, Slicemaster, Burpee Hybrid and Conquistador. Pickling varieties are usually smaller with thinner skins and are used for canning and pickling purposes, as they tend to preserve better. Dill pickles and Kosher dills are two of the most popular canning products. Common varieties of these selections would be Blitz, Bounty, Regal and Pioneer.

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Cucumbers are the fourth-largest crop grown in the world with over two-thirds grown in China for the world’s consumption. Florida and California produce enough for the U.S. during the summer months whereas Mexico imports during the winter months.

As with all fruits and vegetables, cucumbers are packed full of healthy nutrients. Some say it is another super fruit that can hinder the growth of cancer such as breast, uterine, ovarian and prostate. Cucumbers contain three strong elements known as phytonutrients. These are Flavonoids, Lignans and Triterpenes. These are found mostly in the seeds and skins of the cucumber, which should never be eliminated from a meal. If you are buying non-organic, store-bought produce, I would suggest scrubbing the skins of the fruit before consuming, but eating organic is the healthiest way to go if you want to avoid chemicals and pesticides. Cucumbers are also high in vitamin K and contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to aid in better health.

Whether you are looking for their nutritional value or you are simply looking for a refreshing treat from the garden, cucumbers will fill your craving. You can slice them and eat them cold with nothing on them, or you can add them to your favorite salad to add an extra crunch to the mix. Pickling them allows you to enjoy them for months in the future with the same crispness and texture as that would have from the garden, with a few added flavors of garlic, dill, and other herbs.

The more fresh fruits and vegetables you have in your diet the better you will feel and the healthier you will become. Growing them on your own in the garden is a simple task and can be achieved by anyone with a little garden space. Never underestimate the impact these items have on your health as you will feel the difference as soon as you add extra to your table menu.

This is the time of year people start producing more than they can consume, so if there is a fruit or vegetable in abundance, they may not be difficult to come by through sharing. Add some freshness into your daily routine with the wonderful elements of fresh garden produce and remember to consume a healthy daily intake for optimal dietary results. Once you begin the routine, you will wonder why it took so long to begin in the first place!