By Jennifer Olvera, Garden Guides Contributor
Originating in India, cucumbers are a warm-season, tender, vining annuals that root and produce spiral tendrils that wind around supports. Cucumbers are part of the gourd family, which includes squash. Long, cylindrical fruits develop from flowers and are eaten raw. Certain varieties are seedless, although many cucumber varieties do contain edible seeds.
Because cucumbers are a vine crop, they require a lot of space. In large gardens, cucumbers can be spread out across the ground. In smaller gardens, cucumber plants can be trellised.
Cucumbers require full sun and can be grown with success in a variety of soil types, although loose, sandy, loamy, well-drained soil rich with organic matter, such as manure or compost, yields the best results. The soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0. Do not plant cucumbers outside until the risk of frost has passed. Remove rocks, large sticks and trash before planting cucumbers.
Cucumbers are versatile fruits, are highly adaptable and can be planted in large spaces on the ground or trellised in the garden or in containers.
Choosing a Variety
Standard cucumbers, or slicers, are generally 6 to14 inches long. Some cucumber varieties are burpless (seedless). Pickling cucumbers are shorter (generally no longer than 6 inches) and have bumpier skin. Hothouse cucumbers are generally grown in greenhouses, while round, yellow lemon cucumbers are ideal for container plantings. Consider how you'll utilize the fruits, and let that be your guide.
Spade the soil to a depth of 1 foot. Arrange your garden in small hills or rows. If planting seeds, plant 4 seeds per hill, spacing seeds 3 to 4 feet apart. If planting in rows, space rows about 6 1/2
feet apart, and sew seeds about 2 1/2
feet apart. If planting young cucumber plants, do not plant more than 3 plants per hill. When growing cucumbers vertically,this approach actually can increase production,you'll need a 4 to 6-foot stake or trellis. Train a primary runner to the stake and tie at 12 to14-inch intervals, as you would a tomato plant.
Cucumbers are almost entirely composed of water, so frequent, deep watering is essential. Water plants at least once a week during dry weather.
Harvesting and Storage
It's important to harvest mature cucumbers frequently; every 2 or 3 days is ideal. Pickling varieties should be plucked when the fruits are 2 to 4 inches long, while slicing cucumbers should be no more than 8 inches long and no larger than 2 inches in diameter. Do not allow cucumbers to overmature, as they will become bitter. Cucumbers can be stored for up to 2 weeks at 50 to 55 degrees in the crisper with a relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.