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Although close to a hundred varieties exist, cucumbers are essentially vining plants – a member of the cucurbit family (gourds, pumpkins, squashes, and melons). With a 3,000-year history, the plant has a range of uses beyond edible. If you’re growing cucumbers at home and you search the web, you’ll be surprised at what cucumbers can be used for – shoe polishing, cellulite treatment, and pest control are just a few.
Cucumbers are warm-season plants, producing best between 65° to 75°F, and do not tolerate prolonged exposure to temperatures below 55°F or above 90°F. Cucumbers are generally divided into seedless, seeded, and mini-types making growing cucumbers easy.
Table of Contents
- 1. Cucumbers Have Been Purpose-Cultivated
- 2. Polytunnel Growing Cucumbers Are Gynoecious and Established from Transplants
- 3. Variety is the Spice of Life and Growing Cucumbers Delivers
- 4. Soil, Sun, and Sustained Moisture Are Key to Growing Cucumbers
- 5. Hot Caps Help Plants but Don’t Heat the Soil
- 6. Much About Mulch
- 7. You Can Beat the Cucumber Pests
- 8. You Can Manage Cucumber Diseases
- 9. Cucumbers Are Good First Garden Pants
- 10. Growing Cucumbers in Containers May Surprise You
- Further Reading on Growing Cucumbers at Home
Growing cucumbers is fun and easy – provided you ensure temperatures above 65°F, ample sunlight, water, and fertile, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter.
Below I’ve listed ten essential facts about growing cucumbers – facts you may not know. Fresh cucumbers are an excellent source of vitamins A and C and the minerals molybdenum, potassium, manganese, folate, dietary fiber, and magnesium – a mouthful and a tasty one at that.
1. Cucumbers Have Been Purpose-Cultivated
Cucumbers bred for pickling or slicing are available today, as are cucumbers that are two to three feet long or as little and round as a lemon and cucumbers that are dark green, pale green, or yellow.
Most cucumbers are vining plants, but there are also bush cultivars for gardeners with limited headroom. With so much variety, there’s a cucumber perfect for any garden.
Hybrids often produce only female flowers and are called gynoecious hybrids. They are more abundant producers than standard cucumber varieties, and the fruits generally mature simultaneously. Their seed packets typically include seeds of typical cucumber varieties for cross-pollination.
Parthenocarpic varieties develop seedless fruit and do not require pollination. Because they don’t need pollinators, they can be covered with floating row covers early in the season to reduce insect problems (remove covers as the weather warms, so plants do not overheat). If pollination does occur, seeds will be produced.
- The skin of English cucumbers is thin and often does not require peeling. In contrast, the garden cucumber has dark waxy skin, and consumers typically remove the skin because of its bitter taste.
- Persian cucumbers are called burpless because they tend to be smaller, sweeter, and seedless. The skin is smoother, thinner, and similar to the English variety, does not require peeling. These cucumbers tend to be milder and easier on the digestive system (hence the term burp-less).
- Kirby cucumbers are the smallest. These mini cucumbers are becoming popular in the marketplace due to consumer preferences. They have a wide variety of skin colors ranging from yellow to dark green.
- Lemon cucumbers are round and yellow, resembling lemons, but they are sweet, have thin skins, and contain seeds.
There are three distinct cucumber uses in the marketplace: fresh whole, fresh sliced, and pickled. Whether it is the English, garden, Persian, mini, or lemon variety, whole fresh cucumbers are grown for consumer retail stores.
Freshly sliced cucumbers are typically garden varieties grown for the food service sector, requiring uniform-sized slices for packaged salads and restaurant chain salad bars.
Pickling cucumbers tend to be smaller and thicker. The best-known variety is the bumpy-skinned gherkin.
2. Polytunnel Growing Cucumbers Are Gynoecious and Established from Transplants
Growing cucumbers from seed is easy in situ in beds or hills, polytunnel (greenhouse, hoop house) cucumbers are typically established as transplants. Field-grown cucumber plants generally are started as in situ seeds.
Polytunnels provide an ideal environment for producing these sun-loving vegetables that require a steady temperature, managed watering, and enough nitrogen. Polytunnel cucumber varieties generally have larger leaves for improved photosynthesis and produce only female blossoms (gynoecious) and are high-yielders.
An umbrella trellis system requires two trellis wires or pipes two feet apart above the crop to tie trellis strings to. Most umbrella cucumbers are planted in double rows two-foot apart, with three feet between plants in the row and a three-foot walkway.
A good alternative is to plant a single row to eliminate weeds by pulling ground cover close on either side of the row.
Plant your cucumber seeds in a sterile, well-drained growing medium – a coconut coir and perlite mixture. Ensure a soil temperature between 60 and 90 °F (ideal is 85 °F).
Sowing should be no more than 4-weeks before the last frost, and starters will emerge between five and ten days. Cucumber seeds are not light specific and will germinate in either light or dark conditions.
Plants with one or two true leaves generally transplant best. Transplant into soil warmed using black plastic mulch after any danger of frost has passed and the weather has settled.
Take care not to damage roots (keeping them intact) when transplanting. If you’re using peat pots, ensure they are saturated before transplanting and completely buried.
3. Variety is the Spice of Life and Growing Cucumbers Delivers
Cornell University has 238 cucumber varieties listed on their Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners website [link] – approximately 20 of those varieties have a 5-star rating – I’ve selected five of those twenty below.
- Orient Express – 64-days to maturity – Hybrid. Pickling. Burpless, Asian type. 10 to 14-inch by 1.5-inch dark green fruit with moderately rough skin. Gynoecious plants. Trellis for straight fruit. Resistant to anthracnose (1 or 2), downy mildew, powdery mildew, scab, cucumber mosaic virus, and watermelon mosaic virus (strain 2).
- County Fair – 52-days to maturity – Hybrid. Slicing and pickling. Almost seedless when isolated from pollinators.
- Chicago – 55-days to maturity – a short, fat fruit ideal for pickling.
- Patio Pickle – 49 to 59-days to maturity – Hybrid. Pickling or slicing. Medium-dark green, white-spined fruit. Best harvested between 2 and 3 inches. Gynoecious, semi-determinate vines. Resistant to STM, anthracnose (1 or 2), downy mildew, powdery mildew, scab and cucumber mosaic virus.
- Thunderbird – 63-days to maturity – Slicing. 9-inch, dark green fruit on strong vines. Resistant to angular leaf spot, anthracnose (1 or 2), downy mildew, powdery mildew, scab, cucumber mosaic virus, papaya ringspot virus (WMV-1), watermelon mosaic virus (strain 2), and zucchini yellow mosaic virus – so pretty much covered.
- Corintino – Seed-to-harvest: 48-days. This organic hybrid produces very dark green, uniform, 7 to 8-inch slicing cucumbers despite cool weather or heat—small seed cavity. Skin is thick enough to endure harvesting and handling but thinner than the average slicing cucumber. Remarkable vigor in both the field and greenhouse. Gynoecious and parthenocarpic. Intermediate resistance to cucumber mosaic virus, cucumber vein yellowing virus, and powdery mildew.
- Calypso – Seed-to-harvest: 52-days. This high-yielding gynoecious hybrid is known for its disease resistance and is a pickling favorite.
- Dasher II – Seed-to-harvest: 58-days. Producing a uniform dark green skin, this early gynoecious slicer grows to about 8-inches.
- Fanfare HG – Seed-to-harvest: 62-days. The All-America Selections (AAS) monoecious hybrid winner is very disease resistant with slim, dark green fruits – makes compact, vigorous vines.
- Diva – Seed-to-harvest: 58-days. Exceptionally flavorful when harvested small. Diva’s seedless, thin-skinned cukes are distinctly crisp, sweet, and bitter-free. Adapted to open-field production and protected cropping. Harvest at 5 to 7-inches. Parthenocarpic. High resistance to scab; and intermediate resistance to cucumber vein yellow virus and powdery mildew. An AAS winner.
- Marketmore 76 – Seed-to-harvest: 68-days. A lovely slicer at 8 – 9-inches and dark green skin – shows good disease tolerance.
- Green Long – Seed-to-harvest: 35-days. The name says it all at 9.5-inches long.
The University of Florida recommends the following slicing and pickling varieties [link]
|Calypso (H) (GY)||Jackson Classic (H) (GY)||Cobra (H) (GY)||Mamba (H) (GY)|
|Deli King||Jackson Supreme||Diamondback (H)||Mongoose (H) (GY)|
|Deli Star||Maxi Pack (H)||Dominator (H) (GY)||Python (H)|
|Excursion||Maxi Pick (H)||Impact (H) (GY)||Speedway (H) (GY)|
|Expedition (Hybrid)||Powerpak (H) (GY)||Bristol|
4. Soil, Sun, and Sustained Moisture Are Key to Growing Cucumbers
Growing cucumbers at home are known to sometimes become bitter, especially towards the cucumber’s stem end. The chemicals (Cucurbitacin B & C) that cause the bitterness (and the burp), are found under and in the skin, so peeling the fruit may improve flavor.
Cucumber bitterness is generally most evident in stressed plants caused by low moisture, high temperatures, or poor nutrition. Some cucumber varieties have a greater tendency toward bitterness. If you improve the plant’s environment, newly formed cucumbers will be better tasting.
Cucumbers are great producers, yielding between one and three pounds of fruit per plant per week during the peak harvest period.
A typical harvest period of 12 weeks in a well-managed crop can yield 20-25 pounds of fruit per plant – the operative words being well-managed.
- Soil has not been a growing site for any of the cucurbit family for the past two to three years.
- Soil with high carbon content – 4-inch covering of compost dug into a depth of 6 to 8-inches
- Soil with a pH no lower than 6.00 (ideally 6.60)
- Soil that drains well – which it will be with that amount of compost
- Sun exposure for at least 10-hours a day
- Consistently moist soil, but not wet
- Regular side-dressings of nitrogen – every two weeks, depending on soil-test results.
All the above is true unless you’re growing a white variety of cucumber like the Itachi (right), in which case you want to protect the fruit from sun exposure.
The Itachi is a unique white Asian Cucumber type and is great tasting, attractive, and highly productive. Uniform yields of sweet, crispy, bitter-free cucumbers with small seed cavities.
Averages are between 9 to 11-inches long. Itachi holds up well to cooking and makes an excellent addition to any stir-fry.
Trellising produces straighter fruit, and it performs well in the greenhouse and field. Parthenocarpic.
5. Hot Caps Help Plants but Don’t Heat the Soil
One of the most common errors first-time cucumber growers make is planting before the soil warms to above 65 °F – ideally hotter 85 °F. To get the soil to warm up faster, some gardeners use hot caps – covers that convert the sun’s rays into thermal energy.
Though this works well for plants, only covering individual plants, they don’t solve the critical need for warm soil.
A way to get the soil to warm up faster is to create hills to grow your cucumbers. Removing the soil from the colder pedosphere and incorporating compost and some fertilizer during the process allow warmer air to circulate, heating the pile. Hills also create a cascading effect for growing fruit left to vine on the ground.
6. Much About Mulch
For early crops, use black plastic mulch and row covers or other protection to speed warming and protect plants.
Direct seed into holes created in the plastic cover. Cucumbers seeded into black plastic usually produce larger yields and earlier ones.
Start plants inside 3 to 4 weeks before transplanting for extra early crops – sow three seeds per 2-inch pot. Thin to one or two plants per pot.
Grow until the day temperatures are above 70 °F and night temperates are above 60 °F. Take care when hardening-off plants not to expose them to cold temperatures.
7. You Can Beat the Cucumber Pests
The use of gynoecious hybrids (usually marked with H and GY) limits the plant’s need for pollinators exposure. Constructing fine netting or cheesecloth tents or floating row covers over young transplants and seedlings can eliminate striped or spotted cucumber beetles.
Put in place at planting and remove before temperatures get too hot in midsummer. Control of beetles is essential to prevent bacterial wilt in cucumbers but less important in other vine crops.
Inviting beneficial insects (beneficial) to your yard with insectary plants, lady beetles, and lacewings can control any potential aphid infestation.
Their activity is evident by the presence of alligator-like larvae of lady beetles and lacewings. Plants that attract lacewing and lady beetles are caraway, chamomile, coreopsis, and goldenrod.
Another pest common to the cucurbit family is the squash vine borer. Remove these by hand and kill them – also, destroy all the crop residues after harvesting, whether the crop is infested or not.
8. You Can Manage Cucumber Diseases
Diseases may include bacterial wilt caused by striped or spotted cucumber beetles, powdery mildew, scabs, cucumber mosaic virus, anthracnose, leaf spot, and downy – all of which can be controlled by choosing a resistant hybrid. See above.
Additionally, you can limit the spread of diseases by not working with wet plants – wait for the whole plant to dry before handling the fruit.
9. Cucumbers Are Good First Garden Pants
Cucumbers in all shapes and sizes (and shades of green) are easy to grow, accentuating the essentials of plant growth – well-drained soil, ample light, and constant watering care. Given that, a single plant can yield up to 35-pounds per season. All of these factors make cucumbers the ideal plant for novice gardeners.
This article alone provides all the required knowledge for a successful harvest. While we’re talking about harvesting, cucumbers, like gourds and squashes, are more palatable when young. Pick them before they grow too large and enjoy a better-quality cucumber.
Below are the essentials for growing pickling, and slicing cucumbers
|Plant||Age of Transplant||Days from transplanting to harvest||Required Air temperature||Planting Distance (inches)||Planting Season|
|Pickling Cucumbers||1 – 2 weeks||30 to 40||75 to 85 °F||6 to 8||Spring, Summer|
|Slicing Cucumbers||1 – 2 weeks||32 to 46||75 to 85 °F||Trellised: 6 Untrellised: 24 to 36||Spring, Summer|
10. Growing Cucumbers in Containers May Surprise You
Cucumbers can be grown successfully in containers of about 5-gallons with a spacing of 14 to 18-inches between plants. Add trellises to support the vine, remembering that cucumber plants can grow tall to six feet.
Planting Medium for Container Cucumbers
- Use a fresh mix for every planting in a given container, ensuring the soil is free of pests, diseases, and weeds.
- Ensure the pot and mix drains well -don’t block the holes at the bottom of the container with pebbles. A blend of equal parts of compost, coconut coir, and clean topsoil is ideal.
- Drains well but still retains water – hence the use of coconut coir is advised. Adding compost with some leaf mold content could also work. If you’re adding builders sand, limit the quantity as water drains through sand twenty times faster than coconut coir.
- Ensure aeration –aerobic compost will help improve soil structure, and water-holding capacity, and help balance pH levels.
- Resisting the impulse to add nitrogen before the plant indicates a need for it – a yellowing dullness of its leaves. Fertilizer negatively affects the microorganism in the soil, and given a chance, these organisms could be better for your crop than fertilizer.
- Avoid using insecticides for the same reason – instead, cover the plants with a protective canopy.
Further Reading on Growing Cucumbers at Home
Do Cucumbers Need To Climb Or Can They Sprawl?
Growing Cucumbers, Is It Worth The Hassle?
Is Growing Cucumbers At Home Easy?
Cucumbers have served humanity for 3,000 years. Originating in India, the fruit has made its way to all the corners of the globe and is referred to in both Roman and Greek writings. More than food, the plants have many health and beauty applications. Growing cucumbers is easy, so I wish you every success in your next crop.
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