Monday, May 19, 2008

Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden
Pamela J. Bennett

Cucumbers, either for pickling or slicing, have become one of the most popular planted crops in today's home garden. Despite the fact that they require substantial growing space, they can still be grown in small gardens by training vines onto vertical structures that conserve garden space. They may also be grown in containers. The cucumber ranges in size from the small gherkin type to the long, thin slicing variety. There are also yellow and fruited varieties. As a gardener you can choose from the many varieties available to suit your needs.

Cucumbers are a subtropical crop, requiring long warm days, plenty of sunshine and balmy nights. Many new varieties have shorter growing seasons making them ideal for the short summers in our area.

Vines bear two kinds of flowers, pistillate (female) and staminate (male). The first flowers are staminate, will drop from the vine and will not bear fruit. Subsequent flowers will include both male and female and pollination will occur. Recently, gynoecious plants (those bearing female flowers only) have been introduced. The seed packet will have specifically marked seeds indicating that the marked seeds must be planted as well for proper pollination.

Climate Requirements
Cucumbers thrive best at relatively high temperatures, 65-75 degrees F being the ideal temperature range. The plants do not tolerate a frost. Since it is a quick-growing crop, it must be well supplied with moisture and plant nutrient elements throughout the growing season.

Cucumbers can be grown successfully in many types of soils. The preferred soil is loose, well-drained and well supplied with organic matter and plant nutrient elements. Work in organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost before planting. The soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0.

Lime and fertilizers are best applied using soil test results as a guide. Contact your county Extension office for information on soil testing. Prior to planting, you should add a complete fertilizer such as 5-10-10 or similar analysis according to label recommendations. One week after blossoming begins, and again three weeks later, use a high nitrogen fertilizer to side-dress the hills. Do not over fertilize as this encourages vine growth and retards fruiting.

Establishing the Planting
You can gain growing time by starting the plants indoors 10 to 14 days before anticipated planting time. Use peat pots or pellets and avoid disturbing roots when transplanting. Planting outside should be delayed until the danger of frost has passed in the spring. Cucumber seeds can be planted in hills consisting of four or five seeds per hill spaced at 4 to 5 feet apart. They can also be planted in rows 2 to 3 feet apart with rows 5 to 6 feet apart. Certain varieties make excellent container plants.

Some suggested varieties for Ohio gardens are Sweet Slice Burpless, Straight 8, Poinsett, Dasher II and Marketmore 80 for slicing. Boston Pickling are good for pickles and Bushmaster and Spacemaster are good for container gardening. Unusual varieties include Lemon, a small yellow type, and Armenian, a long, slender, sweet variety. There are many new and excellent hybrid varieties available as well. Refer to the end of this fact sheet for varieties and their characteristics.

Cultural Practices
Applied mulches can conserve soil moisture, prevent soil compaction and rotting of the fruit, and help suppress weeds. Black plastic mulch can be a valuable aid in keeping the soil moist and minimizing weed problems.

Weeds, insects and diseases must be controlled in the planting. Cucumber beetles, aphids, mites, pickle worms, bacterial wilt, anthracnose, powdery and downy mildew, and angular leaf spot are potential problems in the cucumber-pickle planting. The early and continuous control of the cucumber beetle is critical to success in growing cucumbers. The cucumber beetle can infect the plant with bacterial wilt as early as the cotyledon stage, when seedlings are just emerging from the ground. Bacterial wilt causes plants to wilt and die. Avoid using insecticides in the garden when pollinating insects such as bees are working the flowers.

Cucumbers are ready for harvest 50 to 70 days from planting. Depending on their use, harvest on the basis of size. Cucumbers should not be allowed to reach the yellowish stage as they become bitter with size. Harvest by cutting the stem 1/4 inch above the fruit. Don't trample the vines any more than necessary to harvest the crop.

Frequent picking of cucumbers is essential as they grow and reach optimum quality. Delayed harvest results in reduced quality products and less productive plants because fruiting is an exhaustive process for the plant.

Straight Eight - Heavy yield of smooth, 8-inch long straight and smooth cucumber, dark skin and pure white flesh.

Spacemaster - Excellent for baskets on containers, 7-1/2 inch dark green fruits, mosaic and scab tolerant.

Seman - Sunny yellow skin, lemon shaped and lemon sized cucumbers, crisp and mild.

Sweet Slice Burpless - mild 10 to 12-inch fruits, never bitter, resists several diseases.

Bush Pickle Hybrid - 2-1/2 to 3-inch plants, early crop of white-spined 5-inch fruits.