Cucumbers used to be one of the few sure things in my garden. Eggplants wither, tomatoes get blossom-end rot, and carrots produce short stubby taproots. Radishes are full-proof, but I don’t like eating them. The same with zucchinis. For the past two years, however, even my cucumbers have failed.
This spring I read up on growing cucumbers and learned of two common problems. One, cucumbers grown from seed indoors do not always transplant well. That does not explain why young cucumber plants purchased at garden centers seem to do fine, but several websites stated that starting cucumbers in the house is difficult. Secondly, every garden website reminds readers that cucumber seeds need warm weather to germinate. Seeds planted outdoors too early in the spring do not have a chance.
So I waited, waited until the temperature warmed, and the long-term forecast showed no daytime temperatures cooler than 70ºF. I then planted an elevated ring of eight cucumber seeds and hoped for a 50% success rate. I watered every other day and felt the soil with my hand to confirm it was warm. Cucumbers get planted relatively deep, so I knew seedlings would take a while to appear. Ten days in, nothing had happened.
One morning I went into the garden to check on the progress of all of my plants. One bed over from the cucumbers were the bok choy and cauliflower. One of my bok choy plants was gone, and in its place, all crammed into a circle about an inch in diameter, were eight other plants just breaking the surface. They did not look anything like my usual assortment of garden weeds, so I carefully dug them up. The young plants looked exactly like cucumbers, even though the seed coats seemed a little too big. I thought they might have swollen after two weeks in moist ground. I concluded a blue jay, maybe a squirrel, had relocated my cucumber seeds, so I separated the tangled seedlings and replanted them in the cucumber plot.
Two days later, six of the eight original cucumber seeds popped up exactly where I’d planted them. The transplanted volunteers weren’t cucumbers at all; at least they weren’t the cucumber seeds I’d planted. Now I had fourteen seedlings in a space that might comfortably accommodate four or five fully grown cucumber vines. The reasonable thing to do would have been to pull the eight unidentified plants, but now I was curious as to their identity. Could an animal have dug up cucumber seeds from a neighbor’s garden and buried them in mine? Could the guts of last year’s jack-o’-lantern, casually tossed into the compost pile last October, somehow migrated ten feet to sprout two beds over? Had the garden fairies decided I was going to get zucchinis whether I wanted them or not?
The weird part is that nothing I’ve mentioned so far is the weird part. This morning, about ten days after I’d decided to keep all fourteen plants, I made my daily check of the garden. Every one of the volunteers was dead, and all of the intentionally planted cucumbers were fine. It looked to me as if all of the volunteers had been pulled out of the ground and carefully set down in place. Most were beyond saving, but two looked like they might come back if I rerooted them and watered. I left them where they laid. Mother Nature (maybe it was garden fairies) was only doing what I should have done in the first place, so I let nature take its course.