Fresh cucumbers off the vine are the perfect addition to any summer salad or sandwich, offering their fair share of scrumptious and juicy freshness with every bite. Cucumbers belong to the curcubit family which also includes squash, melons, pumpkins and gourds. Curcubits tend to spread out and send their curly vines all over the place, but luckily can be grown vertically as a fun and creative alternative for small spaces. We've provided some tips on both vertical and horizontal cucumber gardening so that you can learn how to grow cucumbers succesfully for your fresh salads, picnic sandwiches, refreshing drinks and pickles to be enjoyed throughout the winter.
Site: The first step in how to grow cucumbers is determining the amount of space you have available, and whether or not vertical growing with trellises is a viable option. Cucumber vines can create beautiful green covers for garden archways or fence trellises, but some varieties actually do better when grown on the ground. Longer cucumber varieties such as Asian cucumbers, English cucumbers and Burpless cucumbers do better on trellises where they can hang in their air during growth. Pickling cucumbers and Bush cucumbers do better on the ground, with special varieties that grow space efficiently for small gardens availabe. All cucumbers like full sun, but can grow in areas with less than 4 hours of mid-summer afternoon shade.
Soil: Cucumbers prefer well-drained, light soil augmented with organic compost. Make a small, circular mound of finely sifted compost and plant the seeds directly into it, as the compost will break down during the growing season. Cucumbers need warm soil to germinate, so should not be planted outside until well after the last estimated frost date for your area. The months of May and June are ideal planting times in most locations, but some warmer places can take July or August planting for late summer and autumn harvest.
Planting: Mounds for trellised plants should be about 1 foot wide and spaced 6 to 10 inches apart, with 2 to 4 seeds per mound. Mounds for cucumbers grown on the ground should be about 2 feet wide and at least 2 feet apart, with 4 to 6 seeds per mound. Plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep into the compost and water well. The seeds should germinate within 5-10 days. Cucumbers can be planted in pots, but needs large ones to accomodate sprawling roots.
Watering: Cucumbers need a fair amount of hydration, and so should be watered on a daily basis. Water in the early morning, and if hand-watering, avoid wetting the leaves. Always check your soil for dampness, as too little water can result in bitter tasting fruit.
Care: if you are growing your cucumbers on the ground, spread straw underneath the plants once they begin to show blossoms. This will keep the fruit from rotting on the damp soil, but is not a problem with trellised plants. Trellised plants may need help growing in the direction you want them to, so gently weave them along the trellis as the mature. You can spray your vines with sugar water to attract more bees to produce more fruit.
Pests and diseases: Look out for cucumber beetles and whiteflies once the plants begin to mature, which can be deterred with organic, homemade pesticides. Powdery mildew and wilt can be remedied by making sure that the plant and its vines have ample breathing space. Blossom-end rot can be the result of soil that is too rich or over-watering.
Harvest: Cucumbers have a relatively short growing season, maturing in 50 to 70 days. Slicing cucumbers are best at 6 to 8 inches long, although some Asian varieties can be harvested even longer, and pickling varieities are best at 3 to 4 inches long. Simply cut or break the fruit off the vine with your hands, making sure to not damage the plant or rip off the attached end of the fruit. When the fruit gets too large or begins to turn yellow on the vine, it will likely be very bitter and seedy (with the exception of naturally yellow lemon cucumbers). If you have chickens, cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and feed them to the birds. Be aware that when cucumbers begin to mature, they will come on quickly and need daily picking. That's when it is time to look up some new and creative cucumber recipes or get to pickling!
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