A Guide to Growing Cucumbers
Cucumbers originated in southern India and subsequently spread throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. True to their origins, heat is the secret to growing cucumbers.
Prepare your garden
Choose a sunny location that gets a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sun each day and that has light well-drained soil. Cucumbers don't like wet feet! If you have clay soil, you should add sand or peat moss mixed with organic matter to improve the drainage.
To prepare your soil, add a layer of compost or aged manure to a depth of at least two inches and work it into the soil thoroughly. After planting, you can side-dress your plants with the same compost or aged manure or use commercial fertilizer in liquid or granular form. Try not to over-fertilize your plants as this will result in fruit which is stunted.
Use a trellis
Cucumbers grow on long vines which can take up a lot of space in your garden. To save space, or if you have a small garden, grow your cucumbers on trellises. The vines climb using tendrils so your trellis should be made of materials thin enough for the tendrils to grasp. Install your trellises before putting out your plants to avoid damaging the vines.
Growing cucumbers on trellises makes it easier to harvest the fruit. It also results in healthier plants because they are not laying on the ground where they can more easily pick up diseases and insects.
Starting your seeds
Cucumbers are easily grown from seed. You can start your seeds indoors or direct sow them in your garden after the soil warms in the spring. Because they are tropical plants, they are sensitive to cold temperatures.
Start your cucumber seeds indoors two weeks before your last frost date. The best germination is achieved when you use a heat mat that can warm your soil to 70°F. Wait until at least two weeks after your last frost date to plant your seedlings in your garden.
To direct sow your seeds in your prepared garden bed, wait at least two weeks after your last frost date. Plant your seeds two inches deep. Begin regular watering as soon as your seedlings have emerged. Water consistently to avoid bitter tasting fruit. To judge when your seedlings need to be watered, stick your finger in the soil. If it is dry up to the first knuckle on your finger, it is time to water. Adding mulch to your garden will keep the soil moist and discourage weeds.
You can do a second sowing of seeds a month after the first sowing. The warmer weather will encourage your cucumbers to grow and mature quickly. The fruit could be ready to harvest as soon as six weeks later.
Harvesting your cucumbers
Don't be upset if the first flowers on your vines fall off. Cucumbers have male and female flowers. The first flowers are all male. The female flowers will begin to appear within a week or two. It's easy to tell the male and female flowers apart. The female flowers have a swelling at the base of the flower that is the beginning of a cucumber!
We eat cucumbers while they are still green and immature before they ripen to yellow. When the fruit turns yellow, it is no longer edible.
Harvest should be done by size. Pickling cucumbers should be harvested when they are 2 inches long for sweet or gherkin pickles or 4 to 6 inches long for dill pickles. Slicing cucumbers should be harvested when they are 6 to 8 inches long.
Pulling the fruit from the vines could damage the vines and/or the fruit. Use a sharp knife, scissors or small clippers to cut the cucumbers from the vines leaving a small stub on the fruit. Cucumbers are mainly water so you should wrap them in plastic wrap immediately after harvesting to keep them fresh and hydrated. Storing your cucumbers in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic will keep them fresh up to ten days but it is best to eat or pickle them as soon after harvesting as possible. Harvest every few days to encourage the vines to continue to produce fruit.
Cucumbers are easy to grow as long as they have lots of sunshine and lots of heat. Plant different varieties so that you will have plenty to eat and pickle.
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© 2014 Caren White
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