Cucumbers; The Popular Salad And Pickling Vegetable.

Fortunately, the cucumber is easy to grow, and because of its short growing season, 48 to 70-days from seed to picking size, it can find the warm weather that it needs in almost every garden. But being a warm-weather plant very sensitive to frost, it should be direct-sown only after the soil is thoroughly warmed in spring and air temperatures are 65· to 70·F. Sow seed one inch deep and 4-inches apart; later thin the seedlings to about 12-inches apart.

Cucumbers can be grown in hills, but there is no real advantage to this method, and they are grown best in rows and trained on a trellis, pole, fence or other support. This way, they take very little ground space and produce more attractive and straighter fruits.

Also, you can start seeds indoors 4 to 6-weeks before time to set them out as transplants, which is after frost danger has passed. Indoor started plants are best grown in individual pots so the roots are not disturbed when transplanting. If an unexpected late frost comes, cover plants with floating row covers to protect them.

Cucumbers respond to a generous amount of organic matter such as compost in the soil, the use of micro-nutrient foliar spray (seaweed and fish mix) every 3-weeks, and 4-6-4 organic fertilizer added at the rate of 4-pounds to 50-feet of row before planting.

Like most vegetables, cucumbers prefer full sun; in a very hot areas, afternoon shade will keep the foliage from scorching.

Cucumber roots will grow to a depth of 3-feet if the soil is good, so water slowly and deeply. If the plant is under stress from lack of moisture, it just stops growing. It will pick up again when water is supplied. Leaves often wilt in the middle of the day during hot spells, but check the soil for moisture below the surface.

If the first early flowers fail to set fruit, don't worry. The male flowers open first, and about a week later you'll see the female flowers with-baby cucumbers at their bases. This delayed setting shouldn't worry you, but you can avoid it by trying one of the gynoecious, or self-pollinating hybrids, that set fruit with the first blossoms.

There are several types of cucumbers and varieties of each type. Catalogs divide cucumbers into slicing and pickling varieties. Some are dual purpose. Slicing cucumbers are cylindrical and grow up to 10-inches or longer. Pickling cucumbers are shorter and blockier. Some pickles can be picked at any age, meaning small ones for sweet pickles and larger ones for

dills. It is true that all cucumbers should be picked in the immature stage, but a slicing variety that is just right at 8-inches long does not really have the pickling quality at the small, sweet pickle size.

Gynoecious refers to varieties that have almost all female flowers. In the regular old monoecious cucumber, male blossoms greatly outnumber the female, or fruiting, blossoms. Gynoecious cucumbers set with the first flowers set closer to the base or crown of the plant, have higher yields and mature earlier.

Gynoecious cucumbers, however, need a male pollinator plant, seeds of which are included in a packet of gynoecious varieties. Male plants have green seeds and female plants have beige seeds. One male plant is needed for every 5 to 8-female plants.

There are also self-fertilizing cucumbers, which set fruit without pollination and are seedless. These varieties must be grown in an isolated area to prevent cross-pollination with other varieties. They are the type grown in greenhouses and several varieties have become available to the home gardener, check your seed catalogs.

Whether eaten alone or tossed into salads, cooked, used in ethic recipes or pickled, cucumbers are one of the mainstays of the kitchen and among the easiest vegetables to produce in your garden.

Coyright · 1995 Growing Vegetables