Most supermarkets typically stock three kinds of fresh cucumber: English (1 to 2 feet in length, most often individually wrapped in plastic, doesn’t need peeling), unidentified “generic” (smooth-skinned, about 2 inches in diameter, might need peeling), and sometimes Persian (5 to 6 inches long, narrower than English, doesn’t need peeling). Some markets might also carry pickling cucumbers (bumpy skin), and farmer’s markets might have a greater variety of all cucumbers. However, there are more kinds of cucumbers out there than you might suspect, and a great way to discover them – and make sure you have the freshest of whatever variety – is to grow your own.
Cucumbers are tropical natives; they like the weather to be warm, but not dry, and not too intense. They are not frost hardy, but since their period from growth to maturity is from about 55 to 60 days, it is reasonably easy to harvest a crop even if your growing season is short – as long as you plant your cucumbers in full sun. They can also be successfully grown in a greenhouse. If managed properly by avoiding frost through the use of a heater in the greenhouse which can extend your cucumber season.
Cucumbers grow on long vines that take up a great deal of space. Therefore, before you plant your first cucumber seed, you need to figure out how you’re going to manage those vines. If you have enough spare space, you can just let them snake all over the ground as they grow – provided you allot about 9 square feet per plant. If that idea doesn’t appeal to you, then you’ll want to give your cucumber plants some sort of vertical support.
How to Grow Cucumbers
Most gardeners grow cucumbers vertically, not only to save space, but also because it’s much easier to keep the fruit clean and free of disease. Some gardeners choose to let the vines climb a fence, making sure to secure them as they grow. Others use cucumber cages, which are a bit like tomato cages. Still others train them to grow up stakes or trellises hung with string, netting, or wire – taking care to pinch the growing tips when they reach the top, and prune any side shoots to reduce the weight of each vine. Speaking of weight, cucumber vines are heavy, so whatever support system you decide upon needs to be strong.
Where to Grow Cucumbers
Cucumbers prefer fertile soil with plenty of organic matter. For really high yields, you’ll want the soil to be clay amended with a lot of humus. If you want your cucumbers faster and earlier, opt for the classic sandy loam. Whichever soil composition you choose, you need to make sure that the pH is somewhere between 6.0 and 6.5.
Many gardeners start their cucumber seeds indoors, approximately two weeks before they plant them outside, in a moist, well-drained plant medium. This works well, provided you can keep the soil at 22 to 27 degrees during the day, and no less than 16 degrees at night. Otherwise, the best thing to do is direct seed your cucumbers when the ground has warmed up. Cucumbers detest having their roots disturbed, so if you’re starting your seeds indoors, use peat or cow pots, so that you can set your young plants out in the garden pot and all.
Outdoor cucumbers can be planted either in rows or clusters (hills), at a depth of approximately ½ an inch; the distance between plants will be determined by the variety. It is important to mulch cucumbers well, because mulch will keep weeding (which can damage the roots) to a minimum, and ensure that the soil remains evenly moist. We covered the best weed killers here. Cucumbers need a whole lot of water at a consistent rate, but that water must be properly drained; no standing water. Greenhouse cucumber starts should be planted 3 feet apart in ground beds that are 2 feet deep, or 1 plant per 19-litre pot.