Growing Cucumbers

By Mara Higdon

CucumbersCucumbers are a tasty treat on hot summer days. Although there is no significant nutritional value to them, they do have quite a bit of water, which is good for you! There are a few general categories of cucumbers available, so you should be able to find one that suits your garden. I have listed recommended varieties for each category.

Slicing cucumbers: Best used fresh, slicing cucumbers grow on both vines and bush varieties. Harvest the cucumbers when they are 6-8 inches long. Harvest when needed, but remove over-mature cucumbers or the vine will not produce new cucumbers.

  • Fanfare (Bush) – 63 days – AAS winner; great taste; high yield; extended harvest; disease resistant
  • Marketmore 76 – 68 days – very uniform, dark green, multiple disease resistance
  • Straight 8 – 58 days – AAS winner; long-time favorite; excellent flavor; evenly dark green fruit

Burpless: If you have problems digesting cucumbers, this variety is one to try. Cucumbers can grow up to 12-15 inches long. The skin is thinner and they taste a bit sweeter. They have seeds and are slower to mature.

Pickling cucumbers: Grown and bred specifically for their crunchiness and flavor once pickled. Generally mature when 4-5 inches long; some even smaller. Most varieties are vining. Plants should be harvested every day. As with slicing cucumbers, remove over-mature or yellowing cucumbers or the vine may stop producing.

  • Bush Pickle – 48 days – compact plant, great for containers
  • Calypso – 52 days – vining, gynoecious (only produces female flowers)
  • Carolina – 49 days – blocky fruits with white spines; medium-sized plant with good vigor; disease resistant

Burpless: If you have problems digesting cucumbers, this variety is one to try. Cucumbers can grow up to 12-15 inches long. The skin is thinner and they taste a bit sweeter. They have seeds and are slower to mature.

Cucumbers are best started by planting seeds directly in the garden. For best yields, mix in compost or well-rotted manure before planting. When planting early in the growing season, use the hilling method, which allows for more heat to warm the soil and the seeds as they germinate. To use this method, plant two to three seeds ½ to 1 inch deep and form a mound or hill above them. Thin the seedlings to one plant every 12 inches in the row, if not using hills, or to three plants every 36 inches in the hill method.

To save on space in your garden, use trellis or sturdy tomato cages to keep the vines off the ground and to support the cucumbers. Some varieties grow in compact bush shapes and do not need to be trellised. In order to produce fruit, female flowers must be pollinated. Standard varieties have both male and female flowers. The males bloom first and are smaller than the females.There are gynoecious varieties that only produce female flowers. Because of the early flowers these varieties produce earlier and produce more cucumbers per plant. However, they still need a male to pollinate them.

Cucumber plants have shallow roots and require sufficient soil moisture at all stages of growth, especially when fruit begins setting and maturing. Use of floating row covers once seedlings have appeared keeps down the population of cucumber beetles. They can spread disease such as bacterial wilt and cause deformed cucumbers. Remove the row cover once the vines have spread and keep them as healthy as possible. A second planting for fall harvest can be made in mid – to late summer.

Harvest your cucumbers early in the morning and refrigerate immediately. They can be stored for up to 3 days in the fridge. Don’t be concerned if your cucumbers have a dull green color to them. This is the natural color of cucumbers unlike the glossy wax green cucumbers you see at the supermarket. Enjoy!

Mara Higdon is the Program Director at Gateway Greening. They focus on community development throughout the St Louis area.


About Mike Perry

Husband, Father, DIYer, Gardener, Runner, Tea-Drinker, Traditional Wet Shaver...
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