Albert Mastronardi grows Splash, a revolutionary mini cucumber variety

At H&A Mastronardi Farms Ltd. in Canada, they have embraced the cultivation of Splash mini cucumbers. Even though Albert Mastronardi is 'a tomato man' and a very picky grower, he is delighted with the results: "Splash cucumbers offer a winning combination of higher yields, vigor, adaptability, energy efficiency, reduced labor, and excellent fruit quality, making them an ideal choice for growers. Splash is by far the best mini cucumber variety I've ever encountered."

Wageningen opening

Albert, a third-generation greenhouse vegetable farmer, together with his brother Rudy, leads the family-run greenhouse at Kingsville, Ontario, which has been a pioneer and industry leader in the gourmet greenhouse industry for over 50 years. "We cultivate 20 hectares of greenhouse space for snacking tomatoes, mini cucumbers, and ornamental flowers. For over 15 years, the mini cukes were grown on a small scale in an old facility. Now we have approximately 15 acres of mini cucumber, with 12 acres dedicated to year-round production in a brand-new facility: six-meter-high Venlo-type greenhouses with hybrid lighting."

About 1.5 years ago, Albert conducted a trial with the DRCB6028 pre-commercial code / Splash cucumber plant in small quantities at his older facility to find a stronger cucumber variety. He compared the variety directly with that of a competitor by planting them side by side. "We recognized its potential, which led us to conduct a larger trial under artificial lights. We planted it on December 15th and harvested the first fruits in the first week of 2023, continuously for 18 weeks later.

Due to a limited area (about 4000m²) for Splash, we had to end our crop early to maintain consistency across the trial. Despite this, there was no need to prune the Splash plants."

Albert observed that he could have extended the growing period by three weeks, resulting in good fruits and a strong plant. The Splash represents approximately 80% of his current crop, and he plans to have 100% in the next planting. For both winter and summer, Albert adopts a planting density approach of three plants per square meter, maintaining all plants with one stem each. This method was initially used in his snacking program and was continued when he switched to growing mini cucumbers.

Three crops a year
Splash allows for three crops a year for high-wire cultivation. The plant maintains a perfect balance between vegetative and generative growth, providing the desired vigor and longevity for the crop. The 18-week harvest period can be extended, and the food quality remains consistent with suitable cucumber lengths for traying and bagging. "When it comes to sales, we offer the mini cukes in 2-pound Ziploc bags to retailers. We sell them as trays with overwraps, as six-count and eight-count packages. Most of our sales, approximately 70%, go to Canadian retailers, and the rest is distributed between US retailers.

15% more kilos per square meter
One of the main strengths of Splash is its foliage, featuring larger leaves with minimal cupping compared to other varieties. "The broad leaves act like solar panels, efficiently absorbing light and assimilates, providing a cooling effect during summer and promoting growth during winter. This variety is suitable for year-round production and has demonstrated an impressive increase in yield, with an achievable average of 1.75 kilos per square meter per week. Conservatively estimated this represents 15% more kilos per square meter compared to leading competitors."

Also, Splash stands out with its fresh and vibrant appearance, maintaining its top-notch quality throughout the entire crop cycle. Unlike the competitor, which requires termination at the end of the cycle, Splash can be extended for a few more weeks, making it a highly valuable choice for growers. "Additionally, Splash is a strong crop, so it has a better chance of combating anything, including pests. While its superiority against viruses is yet to be fully verified, there have been no instances of devastating outbreaks or significant issues observed in the Splash crop." The current crop of Splash will be terminated during week 35 at the end of August. New seeds have already been purchased, and planting is scheduled for the second week of September.

"Splash is by far the best mini cucumber variety I've ever encountered. It may start about three days later than the leading competition, but once it begins growing, the plant's vigor remains consistent from start to finish. Unlike vegetative varieties, Splash doesn't produce abundant side shoots or excessive vine growth, which is crucial when using LED lights that can trigger side growth. The plant's broad leaves protect the vine from excessive light, reducing regrowth at the bottom and allowing efficient assimilate absorption." Furthermore, unlike the previous leading cultivar that experienced burning issues, Splash shows very minimal signs of burning despite the heat. Additionally, its robustness effectively prevents mildew problems."

No pruning needed
Splash mini cucumber plants have a unique characteristic that sets them apart from other hybrids: their side shoots self-terminate. "Unlike most mini cucumber varieties that require regular pruning after producing two or three fruits, Splash plants naturally stop their side shoot growth. Each internode produces two to three fruits, and the process continues without any manual intervention. This self-termination feature eliminates the need for labor-intensive pruning, resulting in significant cost savings."

Perfect length
The Splash cucumber maintains a length of 10 to 16 centimeters, unlike many other varieties that tend to elongate as the crop matures. This characteristic ensures that all fruits can be used in trays, eliminating the need to discard or sell them as lower-grade fruits. This results in minimal waste and improved production, as everything can be utilized as a top-grade product. "Splash is ideal for specialty packs or trays, such as six-count and eight-count packs, as it maintains the desired length. Ensuring uniformity of the fruits is crucial for these packs, and while adjustments with chlorides can be made to achieve the desired length, I haven't found the need to do so."

Also important: the taste of Splash is excellent. The name "Splash" captures the refreshing burst of freshness that you experience when eating it. "These cucumbers have a delightful combination of sweetness, crunchiness, and tender skin with just the right amount of water inside. The feedback we've received for Splash has been nothing but positive."

Tips and tricks for new Splash growers
"Splash exhibits remarkable resilience to higher temperatures during its vegetative phase, thanks to its inherent vigor. By adjusting temperature levels according to seasonal and light variations, you can greatly enhance the growth of Splash plants. Unlike competing varieties, Splash can handle stressful conditions with ease." The broad leaves of Splash plants serve as efficient energy absorbers, harnessing abundant sunlight. This energy is then utilized by the plant and ultimately transferred to the fruits. Implementing a 24-hour temperature cycle or pre-night treatments can further optimize nutrient translocation into the fruits, boosting overall productivity. "Embracing longer growth cycles for Splash cultivation yields advantageous results, reducing input costs while increasing production. This combination of vigor, adaptability, and energy efficiency makes Splash an excellent choice for growers seeking superior performance and yield."

So from point A to point Z, Albert is happy all around. "Growing Splash is a joy. It's rare to find a variety that is labor-friendly, produces high yields, and offers excellent fruit quality. Normally you find only one characteristic and not the other. However, Splash exceeds expectations and hits all the right marks. For high-wire growers of mini cucumbers, Splash is a clear winner, possessing the ideal traits of longevity, vigor to thrive in the canopy, and exceptional fruit quality that rivals other varieties.

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