Entertaining the Royals

cucumberCharles and Camilla are past their best: dry, withered and droopy. It's time to give them the chop. It's with mixed emotions that I farewell our indoor cucumbers (which we always name) at the end of each summer. Their gorgeous slender green fruits, growing 20-30cm long on vines trailing right around the window frames have fed and amused us, decorated the living room, and given rise to many an admiring comment from visitors. One friend suggested that rather than having named them Charles and Camilla, we might have done better to call them Charles and Diana. "They grow side by side," he said, "but never touch!"

Indoor cucumbers are one of the best pot plants you could have, even if you live in warmer climes than I do. If summer is slow to kick off, an indoor cucumber on a sunny window ledge will have a head start on anything outdoors or in the glasshouse. Even if summer arrives early and outdoor cucumbers romp away, there is nothing so convenient when making a salad than walking three steps across the room to snip off the ingredients. With the sun shining through their bright green leaves, and their tendrils coiling about their support stakes like tight springs, they are the most attractive pot plant you could ask for.

We grow our indoor cucs in sturdy 4-5 litre pots filled with commercial potting mix to which crumbled aged animal manure and a scattering of water retaining crystals have been added. A deep drainage tray sits underneath to ensure no liquid seeps onto the window ledge. Before planting our seedling cucumber, we push into the potting mix a stout bamboo stake the height of the window. This provides the first support for the newly growing plant. In preparation for continued growth, we fix across the top of the window reveal a 2 cm wide strip of beading. Although it is possible to use garden twine for this purpose, a cucumber can weigh up to 400 grams and the weight of two or more fruits may well bring the string structure down.

Although I am a fan of feeding growing plants with liquid manure at regular intervals, I forgo this practice when it comes to indoor vegetables. The smell of seaweed and manure tea isn't quite what I'm looking for in my living room. Instead, I give up my organic principles for the time and top up the cucs with soluble plant food. When it comes to 'indoor garden hygiene', I am scrupulous about keeping white fly and aphids at bay. Once the cucs are attacked, there is little I can do to save them. The living room is not the place to be spraying chemicals (even if I did use them) and any attempt to douse the bugs with garlic and detergent leaves my windows sticky and the house smelling like a Moroccan medina! Instead, I always wash my hands thoroughly whenever I come in from the garden and approach the likes of Charles and Camilla only once I've changed into my finery.

I'm going to miss Charles and Camilla although, at this time of year, when their last late blossoms fail to set fruit and instead drop in droves onto the carpet, there is something of an incentive to oust them. I'll carry then outside and with much fanfare, pomp and ceremony, give them a right royal send off as I deposit them onto the compost pile. A suitable period of mourning behind us and I'll soon be out with the basil seed to create a new window ledge garden.

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