Cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) has been grown and bred for centuries. It is mentioned in the Bible and in ancient herbals. The cucumber has been cultivated in Iraq for more than 5,000 years, both as a vegetable and for medicinal purposes and was introduced to the New World by Columbus.
Cucumbers are one of many tasty edibles for small spaces and are fast-growing. Try training the vines up a trellis so the fruits will grow straighter and will be easier to find among the leaves. This technique also frees up valuable garden space. We are now 1 to 2 weeks past the last frost date for our area (April 19th, give or take 12 days and we’re in the ideal soil temperature range of 70°–90°F, so it’s time to sow seeds outside. Consider these space-saving and growing tips if you like fresh-from-your-own-garden cucumbers:
1. Grow a compact cultivar like Midget, Castlepik, Pickle Bush, Dasher II, Sugar Crunch, or Little Leaf which are perfect for a small space or a container. Make sure to select for disease resistance to Anthracnose, angular leaf spot, cucumber mosaic virus, downy mildew, and powdery mildew
2. Trellising cucumbers saves a lot of space by growing the vines vertically. Be imaginative using sticks and twine, a tomato cage, or a bordering fence. Trellising also keeps cucumbers straight and improves airflow which helps prevent disease. Be sure to consider being able to get your hands through the trellising materials so you can retrieve the fruit.
3. When growing cucumbers in a container, use one that is at least 10” deep and 14” wide. The larger the container, the less frequently you will need to water.
4. Pollination. Monoecious cucumbers have both male and female flowers on any given plant, while gynoecious has only female flowers, therefore, a pollinator plant with male flowers is required for fruit production. Because gynoecious plants put energy into only female, fruit-bearing flowers these varieties are generally very productive and fast to mature. Unless your cucumbers are “parthenocarpic”, meaning they produce seedless fruit without pollination, they will need to be pollinated in order to produce cucumbers. Often parthenocarpic varieties are gynoecious or have a high percent of female flowers. It is a good idea to sow flowers that attract bees nearby.
5. Water. Cucumbers have a shallow root system and require regular moisture, at least 1″ per week. Moisture is particularly important during flowering and fruiting, since 96% of the weight of a cucumber is made up of water. Consider mulching plants to aid in moisture retention. If plants don’t get enough water, fruit may be curved or constricted, and may be bitter.
6. Harvest cucumbers frequently. Do not let cucumbers get too big. Plants stop producing if there are overly mature cucumbers on the vine. Plant on harvesting about twice a week to keep plants producing all season long. Cut the stem rather than pulling at the fruit to break it off. Once picked, immediately immerse the cucumbers in cold water to disperse “field heat”, which increases the quality and life of picked fruit.
Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.