West Indian Gherkins: The Best Pickling Cucumber


I wrote “In praise of West Indian Gherkins” on my blog on September 23, 2014.

After a few years of growing many varieties of pickling cucumbers and getting too many pests and diseases, we went outside the box in 2013 and tried some West Indian Gherkin seed from Monticello, where they used to be grown by Thomas Jefferson (and some of the enslaved people, no doubt). These are not closely related to actual cucumbers, but are used similarly. (They are not the same as Mexican Sour Gherkins, either.) I saw them growing in the Monticello garden when I was there for the Heritage Harvest Festival in September 2012, and they are certainly robust and productive in hot humid weather. This seems like a great crop for disease-prone gardens – no trouble with cucumber leaves turning yellow!

West Indian Gherkins  are prolific and drought-tolerant, and show no sign of any of the many cucumber plant diseases or pests. Because the healthy vines cover the ground, there is no room for weeds, making it an easy crop to grow. Our pickles turned out well and are becoming quite popular! We grew even more this year. Next year, I want this to be the only pickling cucumber we grow! It is a rambler (long vines) so maybe a trellis would be wise if space is tight.

Because West Indian Gherkins are open-pollinated and don’t cross with actual cucumbers (or watermelons, despite the look of the leaves), we save our own gherkin seeds, and a little money in the process. In late September this year, I harvested four 5-gallon buckets of gherkins (one for seed, 3 for pickling) from a 50-foot row we abandoned over five weeks previously. These plants survived that period just on rainfall, as we pulled out the drip tape back when we thought we were done. And there was only about 3-inches of rain, almost all of it in one week, with nothing in the other four weeks.

Before I saw these gherkins growing at Monticello, I had no idea of their existence. Now I’m starting to hear about them in more places.

8/1/2015 10:51:24 AM

I have these West Indian Gherkins growing in my garden in Opp, Alabama. They make great pickles and I enjoy eating them raw in a sandwich. Thanks for this informative post.

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