HOW TO GROW CUCUMBERS
Anne K Moore
In a restaurant, I am not a huge fan of cucumbers in a salad. I usually push them to the side. Fresh from the garden, though, is a whole ‘nother story. Who knew even the lowly cucumber could taste this great fresh from the vine.
Don’t be tempted to plant the cucumbers too early in the season when temperature fluctuations are most common. If the temperature varies by more than 20 degrees F., the fruit can turn bitter. Cucumbers grow best in temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil should be good garden loam. To save space, construct a slanting trellis to hold the vines off the ground. This will help to keep the cukes clean, dry, and free of soil borne diseases, like mildew.
Trellising also helps to keep the cucumbers from running rampant down your rows. When it’s time to harvest any vegetables, it’s a lot easier to walk the rows than tiptoe through the vines.
Apply a balanced fertilizer next to the row or spray the plants with a water-soluble solution when the plants start to bloom.
WHY ARE THERE FLOWERS BUT NO CUKES?
Many of the first flowers may be male and won’t set fruit. The female flowers do the fruiting. Male blooms connect straight to the vine, while female blooms have a small bulb at their end, which will develop into the cucumber, if pollinated. Misshapen fruit is often due to low fertility or poor pollination.
Bees are essential for pollination. Make sure you never apply an insecticide to a flower. That includes insecticidal soap, which is safe only after it dries. Bees are still killed by it if they touch it (or it touches them) when it is still wet. If the temperatures rise too fast or drop low overnight, fruit-set can fail. Or, maybe there are too few bees in the garden. You might not be able to “fix” the temperatures but you can invite the bees for a visit.
To increase bee activity in your vegetable patch, grow some wildflowers such as coneflowers, and flowering herbs like borage, which is a bee magnet. This will also add color and beauty to your patch along with drawing pollinators to the plot.
Cucumber plants are shallow rooted and need a steady supply of water. You don’t want soggy soil but try not to let it dry out, either. Make sure you water to a depth of six inches. Place mulch, like straw or marsh hay, around the plants to keep down weeds and hold the moisture. Try to keep tap water off the leaves. These wide leaves are very susceptible to mildew. Good air circulation along with watering underneath the plants at the soil line will keep the plants in better shape. Healthy plants make for huge crops.
Slicing types include bush varieties for small gardens, which you can grow in pots; ‘burpless’ varieties, which are long and skinny and are just what their name implies; and heirlooms that are just as tasty now as in years past. There are also small-fruited types for pickling.
However you grow them or slice them, there is nothing better than freshly grown and picked by your own hand.