The Extreme Gardener

Experiments in permaculture and
other gardening adventures in northeastern Vermont

Stumbling into plant breeding – cucumber Damascus

January 8th, 2009

My Damascus cucumber is not an heirloom, but it certainly can be called “rare”. I purchased the original seed in 1978 from Nichols Garden Nursery. This variety disappeared from trade shortly thereafter. I had saved seed from it for a few seasons before I noticed that it had been listed as a hybrid. Funny, it has always been pretty stable for me – I guess after 30 years I can safely say it’s been true-lined (meaning it’s now open-pollinated).

Looking back I’m really glad I didn’t notice that it was listed as a hybrid, because I would have missed out on this variety entirely. In the first place, I wouldn’t have bought it if I thought it wasn’t open-pollinated, nor would I have tried to save seed from a hybrid at that time. Now I know better.

Cucumber DamascusCucumber Damascus

Cucumber Damascus

Anyhow, this is a Middle-Eastern type, intended for salads (a “slicing” cuke). Damascus is smooth and thin skinned (no peeling necessary), and crisp with a nice clean cuke flavor (no bitterness or muskiness). I have never grown a better tasting salad cucumber.

It’s about 57 days to first harvest. Obviously it does well for us here, or we wouldn’t have kept it 30 years. However, I shared seed with a gardener in a warmer clime who had disease problems with it. This has led me to wonder, if this variety is particularly susceptible:

1. Could it be that disease is present here, but since our growing season is so short, the disease is not expressed before the foliage is hit by frost anyway;

2. Or, perhaps the disease is not present here, again because of the short, cool growing season.

I dunno. I do think it’s a good example of how a variety can be great in one location, and quite unsuited to another – an argument for being skeptical about increasingly centralized “one size fits all” plant breeding. Unfortunately, that’s where the most money is for commercial breeding, not with maintaining or developing oddball local varieties.

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2 Responses to “Stumbling into plant breeding – cucumber Damascus”

  1. Alan Reed Bishop says:

    Looks and sounds like a wonderful cucumber to me my friend. I’m a big fan of cukes and seriously missing them here in the winter months.

    It could be the reason that you never noticed it as a hybrid is because it may not have been one, only labeled as such to give you the impression that you would have to buy seeds for it every year, this happens a lot in the seed industry to encourage unsuspecting gardeners to re-purchase seed every year, or it could have been that the two parent plants were very closely related so off types were all fairly similar to the original. Either way you got a great cucumber out of the deal and are an example in exsercize of why I encourage folks to use hybrids as foundation stock for future segregation and development into OP analouges of their hybrid parent!

    Great post my friend!

  2. Ottawa Gardener says:

    Good post. I remember another blogger who has decided to try and grow out the infamous sungold tomato and know of lots of gardners that have produced various OP lines that are based on that hybrid’s genetics. I have grown out grocery store saved seed from squash which may well be hybrids and had vigorous plants so who knows really.

    If you ever have seeds to share of this variety, let me know as I do have some trouble with cukes sometimes and it would be fun to have an EG variety.

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