Photo by mallydally
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativis), affectionately known as “cukes”, come in many forms: bush variety, vines, lemon-shaped, yard-long types, and burpless. If you’ve thumbed through any seed catalogs, you’ll notice that they break them down into the groups such as slicing (for salads and sandwiches), for cooking recipes, and those that are perfect for pickling.
Of course, some of these varieties are dual-purpose and will cross-over into several categories. Whether you’re growing them for slicing or pickling, there’s a cucumber for everybody and nearly every growing zone.
Cucumbers can either be started early indoors or directly planted into their permanent bed in the spring. Some gardeners like to get a jump on the growing season by starting them indoors three weeks before the last frost date of their area. Plant them 1/2″ – 1″ deep into seed-starting medium (this often contains zero actual soil) and set them in a warm spot indoors. Seed mats are great to warm the soil and it gets seed going in a hurry, but they’re not necessary and neither are over-head shop lights at this point.
Cucumbers are fast germinators, and you’ll see green in about 3-4 days. This is when you’ll need the over-head lighting. Keep the lights going all day and turn them of at night. They should be hanging right over the plants (very close) so that they don’t become leggy. As the plants grow, raise the lights a bit — or put books under the tray to raise the plants up.
Photo by sa_ku_ra
After the last frost date in your area comes and goes, you need to “harden off” (or acclimate) the seedlings by either setting them outdoors in a cold frame or placing them on a shaded back porch before planting them into their permanent bed. Hardening off is done gradually by letting seedlings have sun over about a week and a half until they’re finally in full sun. Start with one hour in the sun and then pull them under cover for the rest of the day. Give your new plants a little more sun time each day.
Cucumbers don’t enjoy the transplanting process, so they should be handled carefully when planting them into the garden. They’re good candidates for being started in little organic pots that can be planted directly into the ground along with the seedlings. These types of pots don’t disturb the delicate roots because they disintegrate into the soil. You can also plant cuke seeds directly into the garden bed once outside temperatures reach about 70 degrees.
You’ll get the largest production (yields) from plants that are grown in fertile clay soils that have been amended with humus or other organic materials. Like all vegetables, they’re when you apply compost or composted manure once in a while. This is a perfect crop for raised beds, which tend to warm up faster and offer excellent drainage. As long as you choose a vining (as opposed to a bush) cucumber variety, They’re a perfect crop for vertical gardening, too.
Train the vines up a trellis, an A frame support; even a PVC frame with netting stretched over it. Growing vegetables vertically not only saves space, but you’ll have less rotting fruit and bug infestation, and you will have easier harvesting. Plant the seeds 36” apart in a garden bed or 18” apart if you’re training them to a vertical structure.
Photo by Doug Beckers
Until the cucumber plants flower, they enjoy a moderate amount of watering. When the blossoms appear, they appreciate heavy watering until their fruit is harvested. Ideally, they should be watered at soil level as opposed to over-head as they’re susceptible to mildew.
You can hand-pollinate cucumbers, but they usually produce so well on their own that it’s unnecessary. That said, if you’re trying to collect a certain variety, you may want to hand-pollinate for the sake of getting pure seed.
You may hear some talk about gardeners getting bitter cucumbers, and there’s a lot of speculation as to why that happens. One of the things that’s been discussed is hand- pollination. I assure you that hand-pollinating your plants does not produce bitter fruit.
Bitter cucumbers are created through cultural influences not pollinating practices. For instance, letting your plants dry out instead of keeping them evenly moist while the fruit is in production. Practice regular watering so that the moisture in the soil does little fluctuating.
Photo by Oakley Originals
Anyone who has grown just a single plant can attest that cucumbers mature quickly. You should check the vines daily for ripe fruit because if it’s left on the vine and completely matures, the whole plant is signaled to halt production. How do you know if your cukes have reached that point? When the blossom end turns yellow, the fruit is over-ripe. They should be harvested when they’re bright green — and don’t forget that the smaller fruits are the most flavorful.
Health-wise, refreshing cucumbers are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, silica, and magnesium.