How to Grow Cucumbers

Cucumbers have been cultivated for about 3000 years, with many different varieties being developed from four closely related species to suit different tastes and uses. The fruit ranges from the tiny pickling cornichon of France and the common green cucumber to the related African horned cucumber, or kiwano, and the sweet Armenian cucumber.

How to Grow Cucumbers
Photo: iStock

Planning the crop

Although cucumbers have a climbing habit, most varieties are better grown along the ground, particularly in areas with warm to hot summers. When on the ground, the fruit is less water stressed and more likely to remain tender, crisp and juicy. Cucumbers need a sunny position and a well-drained soil that has been generously enriched with well rotted manure or compost as well as some type of potash, such as wood ash. Many varieties tend to spread, but there are compact, almost bush-like varieties that have now been bred for people who have limited space.

How many to grow- Cucumber vines yield about 10 fruits each. For most families, six plants are enough for fresh use. Harvesting time for all but pickling cucumbers is 10 to 12 weeks after sowing, and for most varieties harvesting continues over a number of weeks. Pickling cucumbers are highly productive and harvesting usually begins in six weeks.

Varieties

Burpless Tasty Green: Famous for its digestibility and its skin's lack of bitterness.

Spacemaster: Perfect for when space is limited; can be grown in tubs and large containers; resistant to cucumber mosaic virus; prolific, slender green fruit with excellent taste.

Armenian: A superb and popular burpless cucumber; fruits are pale green, quite long and ribbed.

Lebanese: Many people who do not like cucumber find that they enjoy this variety; small, slender, thin-skinned, burpless green fruits with crisp, mild flesh and a small seed cavity.

Lemon Cucumber: A heavy producer of round, lemon coloured fruits with crisp, non-bitter flesh.

Marketmore: A reliable variety; cylindrical green fruits with crisp texture and a sweet, mild flavour; resistant to cucumber mosaic virus.

Green Gem (Poinsett): productive, standard green variety; excellent texture and flavour; resistant to both mildew and anthracnose.

Chinese Long Green: A favourite with many gardeners because of its long, smooth, green fruits; best trained on a trellis.

Crystal Apple: A very prolific variety with plump, white-skinned, oval fruits and crisp sweet flesh.

Giant Russian: A prolific producer of very large, yellow-skinned fruits that are crisp, sweet and acid-free.

Kyoto: A very long, smooth, green cucumber best trained on a trellis; fruits are ideal for fresh slicing.

Tokyo Slicer: Excellent long, smooth, green cucumber with fine flavour and crisp texture, bearing prolifically over a long season; best trained on a trellis; resistant to cucumber mosaic virus.

Parisian Pickling (Vert Petit de Paris): Classic French pickling cucumber used for tiny cornichons; ready for picking in 60 days.

Ashley: Mild, early, cylindrical, green skinned cucumber.

Gherkin National: A reliable variety for those who prefer larger pickles.

Patio Pick: Ideal for a small garden or for growing in pots and tubs; often bears around 25 fruits per vine.

Growing tips

Cucumbers are planted in raised beds or in low mounds of soil (called 'hills'), which improve drainage. Once the soil has warmed up to at least 21°C and after the last frost date, sow seeds, 2.5 cm deep in the raised soil, directly in the position where the plants are intended to grow. Sow four to five seeds in each site. Seeds usually germinate in six to nine days. Thin seedlings to leave the two strongest at each site. For the compact varieties, allow a spacing of 45 cm between plant clumps and 70 cm between rows. For the larger growing varieties, allow 60 cm between plant clumps and 80 cm between rows. When a plant forms its sixth or seventh leaf, pinch out the growing tip to encourage sideshoots. This helps to create compact plants that have more side branches, which will, in turn, bear more fruit. Cucumbers bear separate male and female flowers on the same vine.

The first flowers to emerge are usually male. Female flowers have a miniature cucumber (the ovary) right behind the flower, which is pollinated by bees. Regular watering is essential during the growing season. A thick hay mulch applied after the soil has fully warmed will help to retain soil moisture and reduce water requirements throughout the growing season. A supplementary application of pelleted organic manure or liquid seaweed fertiliser at the recommended strength can be applied when young fruits begin to swell.

In cool districts with unreliable or short summers, use varieties that have been developed for greenhouse, tunnel or frame cultivation. These are known collectively as 'frame cucumbers' (for example, Telegraph). Seedlings are raised in individual small pots. The seed is planted on its side and grown under protection, and seedlings are transplanted to their individual pots when they reach the six-leaf stage. Male flowers are routinely removed - newer greenhouse varieties, such as Sweet Success, bear female flowers only, resulting in seedless fruit. (Male flowers should never be removed from varieties grown outdoors.)

Pests and diseases

Powdery mildew, verticillium wilt and cucumber mosaic virus are the most likely problems. Slugs may cause damage to young plants.

Harvesting

Cucumbers are at their best if they are picked when crisp and sweet, but before they reach their maximum size. Pick continuously to ensure a higher yield over a longer period of time. Don't pull the fruit off the vine as this can cause damage; cucumbers are best harvested with a sharp knife. Harvesting usually continues until the first frost.

 

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