West Indian Burr Gherkin
Planting Depth: 1″ below the soil’s surface
Plant Spacing: 12 inch hills containing 6-8 seeds each
Row Spacing: 18-24 inches
Days to Maturity: 60-65
The West Indian Burr Gherkin is a native of Africa. It is believed that it was brought to the Caribbean and then the United States through the slave trade during the 1780s. It was first sold by Minton Collins in his store located in Richmond in 1792.
President Thomas Jefferson grew the West Indian Burr Gherkin in his vegetable gardens at Monticello. He was also known for keeping a pickle barrel for guests visiting him at the President’s House in Washington during his two terms as President.
The West Indian Burr Gherkin has an assertive vine and small leaves resembling those of a watermelon. The resulting gherkins are round, firm fruit approximately 2” – 3” in width. They are covered with small, blunt spines protecting them from garden pests.
I find that the prickly vine and leaves of this plant provide an excellent deterrent to garden pests. I often plant it among our heirloom tomato plants. Tomato hornworms and other crawling pests dislike crawling over the spiny vines and leaves, making our garden a less appealing place to spend a summer day.
Plant the West Indian Burr Gherkin in full sun after the danger of frost has passed. Plants can be fed monthly with a side dressing of compost or fish emulsion to increase yields. Harvesting the ripe gherkins on a steady basis will encourage the vine to continue setting and producing more gherkins.
I like to create a quick pickle with the ripe gherkins. I simply slice the gherkins and toss them in a bit of white vinegar with salt and sugar to taste. In less than an hour, the crisp slices are filled with the bright flavor of the brine. They’re delicious served with grilled meats or on a burger.
We have been planting the West Indian Burr Gherkin in the heirloom gardens here at 1840 Farm for over five years. It’s hard for me to imagine our garden without them. We enjoy them so much that they’re a member of our 1840 Farm Heirloom Seed Collection year after year. You can rest assured that they’ll be part of the 2016 collection which will be in our Etsy Shop in October.