When you plant your garden this spring be sure to plant cucumbers. They belong to the gourd family and make wonderful surprise gifts.

List your friends and relatives whose birthdays are in the summer. Then, while the cucumbers are still growing, take narrow strips of adhesive tape and form their names or initials with it. On other cucumbers put the words HAPPY BIRTHDAY with tape.

When the cucumbers are picked, pull off the tape and the letters will be light green against the dark green background of the cucumbers!

Another gift is a cucumber in a bottle. First, select pretty bottles with wide bottoms and narrow tops; then go into the garden and choose some tiny cucumbers. Carefully slip one inside a bottle, letting it lie there in its natural growing position. Place leaves over the bottle for protection from too much sun.

When the cucumber fills the bottle, cut it from the stem. Boil one cup of white vinegar with one cup of water and a teaspoon of salt, then cool and pour into the cucumber bottle. Cap the bottle, and the pickling brine will preserve your cucumber indefinitely.

Cucumbers are tender and must not be planted until the weather becomes warm. They need about 60 days to grow full and firm before the first frost.

Plant the seeds in hills 4′ apart each way. These hills should be 3″ or 4″ high and about 15″ around. The tops should be flat.

Next, dig a shallow hole in each hill and plant about a dozen seeds in each one, pressing them into the soil. Carefully cover the seeds with 1/2″ of soil.

After you have planted your cucumber seeds, it’s wise to plant a half dozen radish seeds in each hill as a protection against insects. The radishes will sprout before the cucumbers, and the insects will eat the radishes first.

When the cucumbers leaf out well, pull up all but three or four of the strongest plants in each hill and also the radishes.

Weed as soon as sprouts appear. Keep the soil loose using a hoe. The vines will soon spread all over the ground.

Cucumbers have been cultivated and enjoyed as a food for hundreds of years. Now they can bring additional delight as unique gifts from the garden!

Illustrated by Shauna Mooney