Growing Cucumbers Organically
Nothing beats the flavour of home grown cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), they are easy to grow and far superior to ones purchased from the shop. There are many different varieties of cucumber most of which can be divided with three main groups: slicing, pickling and burpless. Slicing cucumber are bred to be eaten raw and are normally picked before they ripen and become yellow, when they become bitter. These cucumbers can also be picked early for pickling or eating raw. Pickling varieties are bred to produce large numbers of uniform, small cucumbers with dense flesh, ideal for pickling. Burpless varieties are similar to slicing varieties, but as their name suggests these varieties have been bred to reduce the substances in the skin that give people cucumber burps and gas.
The original wild cucumber originated in India and was first cultivated at least 3,000 years ago in Western Asia. The Romans were probably responsible for introducing the cucumber to Europe.
How to use organic cucumbers
Cucumbers are an extremely versatile vegetable, they can be pickled, made into dips, sliced thin and added to sandwiches, sliced or diced and added to salad or just eaten raw out of hand like an apple with different varieties best suited for different purposes. I’ve even made cooked cucumber fritters in the past, unconventional but still tasty. Young cucumber sprouts can also be eaten, you should ideally steam or stirfry these. Cucumbers can also be made into beauty masks to help relax the muscles of the face and prevent winkles.
The skin of the cucumber when eaten can cause a latex-like sensation on the lips and can cause allergies. You can peel the cucumber to reduce this if this is a problem, although people with severe reactions should avoid eating cucumbers altogether. It appears that due to genetics, different people have different taste perceptions of cucumber, to some people they taste mild, melon-like and watery while to others they are bitter and repugnant with a bad perfume-like fragrance. If you are in the later group there’s probably not much you can do to enhance the taste of cucumbers.
How to grow organic cucumbers
Cucumber plants are climbing plants with tendrils, and as such do best when they are given a cage or trellis to climb upon. By growing cucumbers on a support, you also keep the developing cucumbers off the ground were pests can reach them easier. Growing cucumbers vertically on trellises is also a more efficient use of space in small gardens. Alternatively cucumbers can be grown in large pots, however they will still require trellising. The best way to provide this is to wrap some dog-mesh wire (with large holes) all the way around the inside of the pot before filling the pot with mix.
In hot, dry climates it is good idea to place a thick layer of mulch (sugarcane, lucerne or similar) to keep the root system of the cucumber cool and prevent the soil from drying out too much between waterings. The mulch will also prevent the developing cucumbers from contacting the soil if you choose to grow them along the ground. Keep cucumbers well watered if you want juicy fruits with the best flavour.
Cucumbers are a tropical plant and require adequate levels of sunlight to produce well. They are also heavy feeders so before planting dig through plenty of organic matter (compost and/or broken down manure) into the soil. More compost or broken down manure can be spread above the root system underneath the mulch once the first developing cucumber reaches about 3 inches in length. They will also benefit from an application of pot-ash to promote flowering at this point.
Cucumbers like good drainage, so avoid planting them in a boggy area and ensure the soil is well turned and not compacted before planting. Cucumbers prefer a mildly acidic to neutral soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
Ideally cucumbers should be planted 3 feet apart in rows to allow easily access and harvesting. If growing in a temperate areas it is best to plant cucumbers during early Summer, in the sub-tropics and tropics they can be planted in Spring or Summer. The seeds can be planted in groups of three to a hole to increase the chance of getting at least one seed to germinate. If more than one plant germinates, the less vigorous ones in the group can be cut off at ground level with scissors. Never pull them as this may disturb the root system of the cucumber you want to keep.
Cucumbers produce separate male and female cucumbers on the same plant. You can work out which is the female by looking for a small undeveloped swelling below the flower that will eventually become the cucumber. Some varieties of cucumber have been bred so that the female flowers will still create fruit without pollination creating a cucumber with reduced, infertile seeds. Although cucumber seeds are edible and not particularly troublesome to chew, some growers choose to grow these varieties and remove the male flowers so that the cucumbers produced will be less seedy.
From planting, cucumbers take about two months to produce fruit. To avoid damage to the plant, it is best to pick cumbers by cutting them off the vine using scissors or secateurs. The more you harvest the cucumbers the more they will be encouraged to flower.
Hopefully by following these directions, you’ll have a bumper crop of cucumbers the next time you choose to grow them.