Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing Up: Properly cared for cucumbers produce bumper crop this year

JIM GAINAN Growing Up | Posted: Sunday, August 1, 2010 12:00 am

This might seem weird, but I’ve missed you.  Whenever I miss a deadline because of lack of time, poor planning or a combination of both, I feel bad.  The columns feel like a conversation that in most cases are more for me than for you. Throughout my life in random places I’m greeted with the question “Aren’t you a Gainan?”, to which I generally answer “Um, yes I think so” while thinking “It depends on why you are asking!”

Some continued with “Whose are you?” which meant are you Chuck or Mick’s kid.  The answer would depend on the situation.  There were occasions, depending on what I was up to, where being “Chuck’s” had its advantages.  For instance if I was in trouble, I would always say “Chuck’s”. This could throw the person off and buy me a couple days to prepare defense strategies, should they be needed.  Poor Todd, I owe him an apology; it just occurred to me that when Chuck got a call that said, “Mr. Gainan, your son was spinning brodies in the snow at the West Park Plaza parking lot last night” that he may have gotten in trouble for it.  As long as the person didn’t add, “in his orange VW bug”, I was in the clear.

Now introductions to strangers are much easier because they more often than not say, “you do that column” to which I proudly answer, “Yes”.   Thankfully I am no longer the glory seeker I once was. In time, strangers will probably ask, “Aren’t you Landon Gainan’s dad?” Much later, I hope.

In my column dated July 12, 2009 I attempted to encourage you to give your gardens a boost with a ‘second planting’.  In that article which could have been titled “HHMMM — That didn’t work very well”, I wrote about my lamented cucumber plants.  What a humbling experience it was to find that I couldn’t get the plants to produce what seems to be such an abundant crop for many.

About the second week in August each year, workplace lunchroom counters will be filled with old grocery bags filled with successful gardeners’ harvests, along with a handwritten sign that says “free — take as many as you’d like”.  Experience has shown me that the supply will far surpass the demand and the prolific little pests will sit until some unfortunate person has to mop up the mess, sometime in September!  Cucumbers seemed to pop out of the ground effortlessly in my Grandpa Mysse’s garden, so I felt equipped to accept the challenge.

Last year I fessed up to the fact that my cucumber crop didn’t just fail — it was killed, by my own hands.  I did absolutely everything wrong. I planted too early (2 light frosts), they were planted flat on the ground in an area which would become semi-shady (that wasn’t completely my fault), sprinkler irrigation and to top it off, cedar mulch.  I tried to cut them back and replant, but the damage was done.

This year my luck changed.  I found the sunniest spot in the garden and waited for proper soil temperature. I delayed planting until June 1st, keeping them inside in a sunny window. I planted them on a large rectangular pile of soil 36”Wx24H’x12”T and added time-release fertilizer at planting. I irrigated at soil level (not from above) and that’s it.  This year, just over 55 days from planting, my 4-year-old harvested the first very small cucumber of the year.  Since then, it’s been a bonanza.  The pounding storms we’ve had this year did set them back a little but with the proper environment, they really are easy to grow.

A few years ago we stayed at a hotel that had a large glass beverage jar filled with water.  I thought it was kind of odd but I realized that there was something different about this water.  (For those of you who have known about this for years, I apologize — this was my Beverly Hillbilly moment) The container was filled with ice cubes and very thinly sliced, peeled cucumbers.  When took a sip, I thought “This is really good”, only to forget about it until tonight.

We hosted a photo shoot at our home, and after I lost 20 pounds running around the house cleaning, I realized I needed to have something for everyone to drink.  The New York City memory came back and I harvested my first full-sized cucumber, peeled 80% of it, sliced it thin and put it in a pitcher with ice.  Perfect for a 97 degree day, this drink was ‘summer in a glass’, a real hit. So much so, the photographer even took a picture of it.

My guests unknowingly set me up for the fall that was to come. My bubble was burst and my ego put into perspective when our tired little boy shouted from the kitchen, “Hey DAD, why’d you put pickles in the water?”

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan’s Flower and Garden Center in Billings