March 12, 2011

Growing Cucumbers

Cucumbers can be a reasonably easy plant to grow and can crop quite prolifically throughout the warmer months of the year, when they are much sought after for use in a range of salads. They can also be pickled for year round use, making them a good crop for the householder or small holder to consider growing. The larger, spreading varieties do require a fair amount of room but there are many bush varieties that take much less space and can still crop quite heavily in good soils.

Cucumbers grow best in well-drained, fertile soil, high in organic matter with near-neutral pH. Regular, plentiful moisture is needed until the fruit begins to ripen, otherwise they may develop a bitter taste in dry conditions. Cucumbers are heavy nitrogen feeders and require fertile soils. Regular small feeds of an organic compost or plant food may be required to achieve the best yields. Cucumbers are not hard to grow, as I said, as long as you provide good fertile soil, plenty of moisture and full sun. Wait for soil and weather to warm up before planting, and use fabric row covers if pests are a problem.

Vining varieties can be trellised and will climb up to 2m (6') with support, or hug the ground if allowed to sprawl. Bush varieties take up only 1 sqare metre (2 or 3 square feet), while unsupported vining varieties will require almost 4 square metres (12 square feet) a plant.

Cucumbers are very sensitive to cold. They need warm soil and air, whether direct-seeded or transplanted. Don’t rush to plant too early. Seed will not germinate if the soil temperature is below 10 C (50 F), and germinates only slowly at 20 C (68 F). Seedlings can be started early indoors or on a heating pad in a cloche for a head start. If pests are a problem, a fine mesh cloche or tunnel can be used to help the plants get away to a good start when planted out.

Direct-plant seed  at 25 - 40mm (1 - 1.5") depth, either in rows around 2m (5 - 6') apart, with spacing of around 100 - 150mm (4 - 6") between plants or in hills, with 3 to 6 seeds per hill, the hills spaced 1 - 1.5m (3 - 5') apart. Thin plants to around (8 - 15") apart in rows or 2 to 3 plants per hill. Snip off plants when thinning to avoid disturbing the roots of nearby plants.
For early crops, start plants in pots either inside or under glass on a heating pad 2 to 3 weeks before transplanting out. Sow 2 or 3 seeds per pot in 50mm (2") pots. Thin to one strong plant per pot. keep the soil temperature above 22 C (70 F) during the day and above 16 C (60 F) at night. Be careful when hardening-off plants not to expose them to cold temperatures.
Plants with one or two true leaves transplant best. Transplant into warm garden soil after the danger of frost has passed and the weather has settled. Be careful not to damage roots when transplanting. If using peat pots, make sure they are saturated before transplanting and completely buried. If using row covers, remove when flowers begin to blossom to assure good pollination.

For a continuous harvest, make successive plantings every 2 to 3 weeks until about 3 months before first Autumn frost would be expected. About 1 month before first frost, start pinching off new flowers so plants channel energy into ripening the existing fruit.

To save space, you can train vining cucumbers to a trellis. (Make sure the trellised plants don’t shade other sun-loving plants.) This also increases air circulation (reducing disease problems), makes harvest easier and produces straighter fruit. Set up trellis before planting or transplanting to avoid root injury. Space plants about 10 inches apart. Pinch back vines that extend beyond the trellis to encourage lateral growth.

Most cucumbers have both male and female flowers. The male flowers blossom first and produce pollen, but no fruit. There are some varieties that produce female flowers predominately or exclusively. Seed packs of these varieties include a few seeds (usually marked with dye) of another variety that produces male flowers to provide pollen. Make sure you don’t remove pollinator plants when thinning.

Cucumbers are heavy feeders and require rich, fertile soil and additions of high nitrogen organic materials such as animal and bird manures. Pale, yellowish leaves can indicate a nitrogen deficiency. Leaf bronzing is a sign of potassium deficiency. To reduce pest and disease pressure, do not plant cucumbers where you’ve grown them in the last two years. Choose resistant varieties to prevent many diseases and / or trellis vining varieties to encourage good air circulation. To avoid problems with fungal diseases, cucumbers should be watered directly to the ground and spraying the plants with water should be avoided. A good organic mulch of straw or similar will keep the developing fruit off the ground if spreading or bush varieties are grown. It will also help the soil to retain moisture between waterings.

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  1. Hi Ian, I am a new gardener. My cucumber plant was looking so healthy a week ago with beautiful flowers and I was looking forward to some cucumbers. This week it is covered by tiny black dot like eggs, I think, all over it. I have sprayed it with Dipel but most of the leave are looking dead ad the plant is withering. Is there any chance of reviving the plant.
    Your blog is great and I would reallyh appreciate any advice.
    Thank you

  2. It sounds like you have a scale insect rather than caterpillars. The black dots are a hard shell with a small sap-sucking insect underneath. You should try a white oil, which is made by blending equal parts of vegetable or olive oil and water, with a small dash of liquid soap. This needs to be sprayed onto the scales and it is important to try and coat them well. A small hand bottle sprayer is good for the job. The white oil will seperate on standing, so shake the container well before spraying. Good luck with that.

  3. Thanks for your help Ian. Unfortunately I killed the plant I think. I have cut it right back to see if it will sprout again.

    I'm not so sure it will cos it looked fairly sick. Next time I will be armed with white oil and try to help the plant a lot earlier.

    Thank you

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