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How to Grow Cucumber

Cucumber (cucumis sativus) is a widely cultivated plant of the gourd family, originally from Southern Asia, but nowadays grown on most continents throughout the world. Its creeping vines bear cylindrical fruits that have a refreshing flavour and a crisp texture. Since cucumbers develop from flowers and have enclosed seeds they are botanically classified as accessory fruits, though, much like tomatoes they are often perceived, prepared and eaten as vegetables.

Growing Conditions

USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 11
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Growing Season  Summer
Temperature 60°F – 90°F
Soil Type Loamy
Soil pH Neutral

How do cucumbers grow

Cucumbers grow rather rapidly and are characterized by hairy stems and large leaves. The vines produce tendrils that can be trained to climb. Since cucumbers are large and heavy the plant self regulates its fruit production. This enables the plant to carry fruits efficiently without exerting much pressure on the stems. Thus, a good way to maximize your yields would be to harvest cucumber as soon as they reach picking size, thereby, prompting the plant for subsequent production.

Types of Cucumbers

Most cucumber plants are monoecius and produce both male and female flowers. While the gynoecius type bears only female flowers and require pollination from separate male flowering plants.

English cucumber is long and green and is prized for its thin skin and minimal seeds.

Persian cucumbers come in a range of sizes and are mostly dark green in colour. Grown throughout the world they are more commonly found in the Middle Eastern markets.

Greenhouse cucumber variety produces self fertile flowers thereby eliminating the need for pollination by insects.

Slicing cucumbers like the Straight 8 variety are grown to be eaten fresh. They tend to be longer and have a much tougher skin.

Pickling Varieties include SMR 18, West India Gherkin, Pioneer and Mariner.

Popular Burpless Varieties are Burpless 26 and Sweet Slice.

Novelties: Lemon Cucumber (fruit size and colour of a lemon), China or Kyoto (an extra long cucumber).

How to grow cucumber from seeds

  • Ideally cucumber seeds should be propagated between March to May.
  • Refrigerating the seeds or dipping them in water for at least 24-48 hours before planting aids in the germination process.
  • Sow cucumber seeds on their sides at a depth of 1cm (½”) in a free-draining potting mix.
  • Maintain soil moisture by watering at regular intervals.
  • After 7-10 days small seedlings will start to emerge from the soil.
Cucumber Seedlings

Cucumber Seedlings

  • Cucumber seedlings can be prone to scorching so take care to shade them from direct sunlight.

Growing Cucumbers Indoors in Containers

  • Select your cucumber plant. Certain bush varieties of the plant like Sweet Success and Bush Slicer do well in containers compared to the other varieties that grow in the form of vines.
  • Use a pot or a container at least 12 inches in depth and diameter.
An Indoor Cucumber Plant

An Indoor Cucumber Plant

  • Provide a support structure to the plant using a 6 inch post or a frame
  • Prepare your potting mix by using a combination of compost, soil and sun dried manure. Make sure the mix is such that it can retain moisture and at the same time has proper drainage as well.
  • Now sow your seeds or transplant your sapling in the container. In case of a transplant, soak the roots in water and gently spread them before placing them in the container.
  • Cucumbers are heavy feeders. So add a slow releasing all purpose fertiliser every other week during the growing season.
  • Make sure to water the plant well and place the container in a spot that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight.

Cultivation in a Garden

  • When growing cucumber outdoors, plant them in single rows at a distance of 90cm apart.
  • Cucumber saplings should be gradually acclimatised to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days before being transplanted into warm, well drained, humus rich soil. Choose a sunny position with shelter from strong winds.

Grow cucumbers vertically on a trellis

A trellis is basically an architectural structure with an open framework used as a support base for vines and other climbing plants. An “A” shaped trellis works well and is also relatively simple to construct. They are generally available in farm supply stores and usually come in 16 foot long panels that are 2-3 feet wide. Using bolt cutters they can be easily customised as per individual needs.

Cucumber Plants on a Trellis

Cucumber Plants on a Trellis

Trellis farming involves just 2 simple steps:

Firstly, place the trellis firmly on the ground shaped in the form of a tent covering your cucumber plant.

 The second part is to train your plants to climb, by gently winding their tendrils up the fence, during the growing season. After a few days the vines will be able to climb naturally upwards the trellis without any additional assistance.

Cucumber trellis farming has multiple benefits. Besides the fact that it maximises your grow space; the fruits are cleaner, straighter and of a more uniform colour. The plants are easier to water at the main stem and the fruit is much easier to harvest.

 Tips for Growing the Best Cucumbers

  • Sometimes the cucumber plant may not set fruits because the first flowers were all male. In order to produce fruits, both male and female flowers need to bloom at the same time. This needs to be dealt with patiently as the same may not happen early in the plant’s life.
  • In case chemical fertilizers are being used select a reputed brand which is high in potassium (K) and apply it directly to the soil around the plants. Take care not to over fertilise as it will result in stunting of fruits.
  • Water your plants regularly as inconsistent watering often leads to bitter tasting fruits. Add a layer of mulch to the top soil as it helps to retain moisture.
  • Bacterial Wilt Disease is caused when the cucumber beetle, a small insect, injects bacteria into the cucumber plant as it feeds on it. It causes the plant leaves to wilt and within a brief period the plant dies.
  • The Cucumber Mosaic Virus presents itself, as thin pale yellow or white lines, on the surfaces of leaves. The virus is spread by aphids and bugs.
  • Anthracnose is a fungus that infests cucumber plants during warm, wet weather. Small, yellowish spots appear on the leaves and turn brown.The fungus spreads rapidly and is quite resilient.

Diseases affecting cucumber plants

The application of pesticides and home remedy treatments aid in pest control. Regularly spraying your plants with a combination of garlic, pepper and vinegar mixed in equal parts of water reduces the risk of diseases without adversely damaging your plant.

Cucumber Mosaic Virus

Cucumber Mosaic Virus

Harvesting cucumbers

Cucumbers Being Harvested

Cucumbers Being Harvested

For Pickling

If you want to make pickles then harvest your cucumbers when they are two to four inches long. For most types the harvest can begin midsummer onwards.

For Fresh Eating

For normal consumption purposes cucumbers are ready for harvest in around 12 weeks from sowing. Look for fruits that are uniformly green and firm as those are the ones ready to be picked. Vines produce more fruit the more you harvest, so check the vines daily for newly emerging fruits. Avoid pulling the fruits as it may damage the vines. To remove the fruit simply cut above the stem using a clean pair of clippers or a sharp knife. Harvest Lemon cucumbers just before they begin turning yellow because if left on the vine for too long they’ll end up turning bitter.

Cucumbers are more than 90 percent water which makes it a great summer fruit. Moreover the fact that it can be made into pickles or used in salads makes it easier for us to infuse it into our everyday diet.

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