Get your Cuke On
Is there anything better than taking that first bite into a crunchy dill pickle, after a mouthful of decadent Reuben sandwich? you know it, you’d be opening the pickle jar for the third time. And If you have got cucumbers growing right in your yard or garden, you’ll have fresh cukes on hand and pickled cucumber whenever!
Before you start salivating, you’ll need to know how to grow cucumbers first. Let’s dive into the essentials to growing a thriving cuke plant. You’ll get a working knowledge of cucumber varieties, growing climate, planting, potting, feeding, care, and more.
1. Picking your Cukes
Thankfully, picking the right cucumber type and variant is probably going to be the most difficult part of growing cucumbers. Why? There are so many different types of cucumbers that finding the right one can be quite confusing for beginners. Besides the specific cucumber variety, you’ll also have to consider what you’ll be using them for, the size of your garden (or pot), and where you’ll be growing them.
Types of Cucumber Plants
There are three main cucumber cultivar groups namely, pickling, slicing, and burpless (also called seedless). Thankfully, you can quickly choose which cucumber may be best for you depending on how you plan to use or eat them!
As its name suggests, these cucumbers, called picklers, are specially grown and picked to be pickled with vinegar, sugar, brine, and various spices. Although all cucumber varieties can be pickled, the picklers shape and form make them best suited for it.
Besides the tongue-twister connection, picklers’ are characterized by their stubby, often irregularly-shaped bodies. They typically also have their distinct bumpy and dotted skin, especially when compared to the smoother skin of slicers.
Gherkins, baby pickles, or cornichons, are also included in this category. Popular pickling varieties:
Slicers, on the other hand, are the cucumbers that are bred to be eaten fresh. You can quickly identify slicers with their long and smooth bodies, evenly-colored, and with more robust skin than the two other variants.
Slicing cucumbers are typically harvested and eaten when they’re still green and unripe. Don’t be tempted to let your cukes ripen until they yellow thinking they’ll turn sweet. You’ll most likely end up with a bitter and sour cuke.
Probably the most interesting type of cucumber is the burpless variety. This cucumber type has thin delicate skin but is easily the tastier and sweeter variety. They’re also known to minimize any digestive issues (read: gas) that come from eating regular cucumbers. Thus, they’ve been affectionately called “burpless”.
The reason behind the burpless cucumber’s more people-pleasing quality is its low concentrations of an organic compound called cucurbitacin. Read more about it here.
If you love eating cucumbers fresh, then burpless is the way to go!
Vining vs bush cucumber plants
All cucumbers plants are vining plants. Typically, a large garden space is needed for the normally quick growth and expansions of these plants. However, there are certain varieties specially grown for smaller spaces or pot growing. Often, compact varieties are labeled “bush”, “mini-cucumbers”, or “dwarf”.
Get into The Cuke Zone
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zones are the standard used by growers, big and small, to ensure they’re growing the right plant variety at the right time and in the right place. With the numerous cucumber plant varieties, you’ll want to be careful when deciding on a seed type.
Always, always match your zone location with your chosen cucumbers. Although some varieties are suitable for all zones, many will only thrive if they’re grown in the appropriate hardiness zone. Typically, you’ll find a cuke’s zone on its packaging.
Once you’ve set your heart on a cucumber variety, it’s time for some good ol’ garden prepping.
Cucumbers thrive in light, well-drained, friable soil. Take care not to use garden soil or landscape soil which may carry harmful bacteria and other contaminants that may hinder seedlings from growing. Instead, look for bag mixes that are specially made for edible plants and vegetables.
Afterward, ensure that you keep the soil pH between 5.5 and 6.8.
Container vs Ground
If you’re growing the typical vining cucumber plant, you can get the seedlings started in a seedling starting tray. I personally prefer the 6-cell starter trays. You could then plant 2 seeds in each cell or pocket about an inch deep.
If, on the other hand, you’ll be growing in a pot, then you’ll want to get the plants’ long-term home. Get a pot that’s 18 up to 24 inches. Remember, the bigger the pot, the less need for watering.
BUSH: Pot at least 18-24 inches, the bigger, the lest watering.
When you’ve got the seedlings going, keep the strong sprouts with 4 or more leaves. Discard the weaker seedling. Don’t worry, you won’t need too many starters. Remember, for the average family, you’ll only really need 12 established cucumber plants.
When removing the weaker seedlings, take care not to pull out as this may disturb the roots and harm the stronger shoots. Instead, cut the weaker plants at the soil level with garden sheers. Initially, keep the soil damp down to 2 inches.
Keep the plants 6 - 8 inches apart for veins to have room to grow. You can either plant in rows or use a trellis so your cukes don’t grow laying on the ground. This will result in the cucumbers turning white and yellow on the side touching the ground. Hang them for that attractive even green color.
Whether your growing in pots or in the ground, a trellis will be invaluable for better and greater yields.
4. Growing and Care
Sun and Water
Growing cucumbers need full sun, which means 6 to 8 hours of sunlight, though they might be forgiving with partial shade. Water them like you would the rest of your garden – 1 to 2 inches deep. Never let the soil dry out. There’s a reason why cucumbers are 95% water.
Take care not to wet the leaves too much as this may result in fungal growth. Always aim at the base of the cuke plant. To keep the soil moist and warm while aiding germination and growth, consider getting plant covers. In addition to helping with plant growth, plant covers or row covers can also protect your precious cukes from sudden frosts.
Maximize yield by feeding your cukes every 10 to 14 days. Regular hardware store fertilizers or organic options (e.g. worm meal) with balanced N-P-K levels will do as long as they’re specified for vegetable use.
The topic of how to grow cucumbers need not be complicated or frustrating. With some research, a little prep, and a lot of love, you can enjoy fresh cucumbers from your very own garden by the bushel. Just follow the essentials steps above and you’ll be on your way to a thriving cucumber garden!
What about harvesting them? Stay tuned for our next article on harvesting your cucumbers.
How to Grow Cucumbers in a Greenhouse or Outdoors - Thomas, Lisa. Reader’s Digest. Rd.com
Cucumbers - 2006. Cornell University. Gardening.cornell.edu
Cucumber Varieties - Cornell University. Vegvariety.cce.cornell.edu
Growing Cucumbers - Almanac.com
Soil Friability - concept, assessment, and effects of soil properties and management - Munkholm, Lars. 2013. D.Sc. Thesis, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University, Denmark.
Cucumbers - Universityt of California Cooperative Extension. Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Ucanr.edu
Cucumber bitterness explained - Oregon State University. Extension.orgenstate.edu
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map - USDA Agricultural research Service. United States Department of Agriculture. Planthardiness.ars.usda.gov
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