I’m guessing that, if you would like to know how to grow cucumbers, you really love eating them. Yes? The refreshing, juicy crunch as you bite into them on a hot day is hard to beat. Then there are so many ways that they can be cut, diced, shaved, pickled, juiced, blended or used as garnishes in salads or sandwiches – to say nothing of the delights of chilled cucumber soup!
As with all vegetables, the fresher the better so it would be hard to improve on your home-grown, just picked produce, intact with its tiny ‘prickles’ or slight skin roughness. If you have grown your cucumber crop without insecticide you will be able to enjoy the extra benefits of eating the lovely green, crispy skin, too.
I am attracted to growing a few varieties of cucumbers – lebanese, gherkin and apple being my favourites - because they are so easy to grow from seed. They need plenty of sunshine, well drained, fertile soil and regular watering, preferably directed at their roots, not the leaves.
My most successful crop was grown, amazingly, in the hollows of a concrete house brick! One seed in each cavity filled with soil produced two plants that just kept on bearing, so that I was picking fruit every day. So prolific was the effort of these two, ordinary looking plants (heroes!) that I started to count and ended up with 153 cucumbers over a period of a few months. How’s that?
Sunshine, sunshine – preferably for most of the day, although they also tolerate a partly shaded position quite well.
If you live in a cold climate you may have difficulty growing cucumbers except in Summer. In the coastal Australian wet tropics, where I live, Winter has the best results as Summer brings very heavy downpours and consequent sodden soil as well as oppressive, wilting heat.
However cucumbers can be grown year-round over much of the country and in the high altitude tropical areas such as the Atherton Tablelands.
They are great to grow on balconies and in small plots of land. Plant seeds directly into soil that has been mounded to assist with drainage. Make a little, shallow hollow in the top of the mound and plant two or three seeds there, about 1.5cm deep. Any plants that look less healthy than others can be discarded. As cucumbers are climbers they will appreciate a few stakes to help to support them and their developing progeny. Their tendrils will happily hold on to slim bamboo stakes or improvised string supports.
Mulch with dry straw, or the like, around the developing plants will discourage contact with the soil and therefore lessen chances of mildew developing. Trellises will encourage air movements for the same reason. Feed with organic animal manure or seaweed type fertilizers every couple of weeks.
Once the cucumber plant begins to grow secondary, hairy leaves it will begin to develop pretty yellow flowers. Most varieties have both male and female flowers, the male flowers appearing a week to ten days before the female.
In some areas, especially, it seems, in the tropics, there are few bees to pollinate the female cucumber flower so it is necessary to hand pollinate them for best results. Other insects such as ants will also transfer pollen, but not always enough for fertilization to take place.
You will recognize a female flower as it has a small, undeveloped cucumber fruit at its base. Once pollination takes place the fruit begins to grow rapidly. If not pollinated before the flower’s petals close at night, the fruit will drop off.
Some people use a small paintbrush to transfer pollen from the open male flower to the waiting female, but I find that a very effective method is to pick the male flower, put the stamen in the centre of the female flower, close the female petals over the male flower, give them both a little shake and let Nature take its course.
I shall upload photos explaining how to grow cucumbers, step by step, once I plant my next crop...watch this space.
The familiar cucumber, cucumis sativus, is a member of the curcurbiteae family, which includes zucchini, pumpkin and melons.
Most delicious and crunchy just before they reach maturity, cucumbers are best cut from the vine with a sharp pair or scissors, or else twisted with one hand while supporting the rather fragile vine with the other to avoid damage to the vine.
If you have grown your own the fruit will be packed with nutrients if you use it immediately. Cucumbers that you buy from the supermarket are often a week or two old, depending on how far they had to travel and how long they are held in cool-rooms awaiting distribution, their nutritional value fast fading.
Because cucumbers contain lots of water they help to keep you cool and hydrated in hot weather. The water also helps to flush out toxins and to keep your skin supple. They are low in calories, hence useful in weight-loss endeavours but contain many beneficial vitamins and minerals as well as fibre so help to improve a variety of diseases and conditions.
Cucumbers are rich in potassium, hence helping to regulate blood pressure.
contain folate and anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A and
Carotene, helpful in heart disease and helping to strengthen the immune
With lots of fibre and water they assist with digestion and counter the effects of too much sodium, at the same time protecting against colon cancer.
Cucumbers’ high proportion of vitamin K helps to protect against osteoporosis and Alzheimers disease.
Mineral content includes potassium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
Some great cucumber recipes coming up!