In a blindfolded taste test, many people would be surprised to discover a homegrown cucumber isn’t like the cucumbers they’ve been buying in the grocery store. The homegrown cucumber will beat the store-bought cuke for taste every time.
Plus, homegrown cucumbers are less watery and won’t be coated with that wax slapped on store-bought varieties to protect them when shipping. Makes you want to grow your own, doesn’t it?
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Types of Cucumbers
When growing your own, you’l’ find many more varieties than in the grocery store. Your available space determines how many types you can plant.
These resemble the typical cucumbers found most grocery stores, but better tasting. A popular variety is ‘Straight Eight.‘
As the name implies, pickling cucumbers are smaller with thicker skins, making them great for pickling. ‘National Pickling‘ is one of the many varieties.
English or Japanese cucumbers
Several varieties produce longer fruit with thinner skins. Some are even seedless. In the grocery store, they’re usually wrapped with plastic to protect their thin skins, but you won’t need to do that when you grow your own. One such variety is ‘Tasty Green.‘
If you like to grow really different varieties of vegetables, try Lemon cucumbers, which produce round, yellow fruit.
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How to Plant Cucumbers
Once you’ve chosen your seeds, it’s time to get growing.
- Wait until about two weeks after the the last frost date in spring before sowing seeds or transplanting cucumber plants in the garden. Cucumbers love the heat, full sun and well-draining soil.
- If growing cucumbers up a trellis, sow seeds approximately one foot apart.
- For bush-type cucumbers, sow several seeds in small hills, creating a tiny mound of soil. Space hills about three feet apart. Once seeds germinate, thin out seedlings to leave the two strongest plants.
A trellis, simple A-frame trellis provides support for cucumbers and keeps them up off the ground.
Some cucumbers have short vines and are labeled as bush cucumbers. They won’t need support. But once the ground has warmed, you may want to put down straw mulch to protect the ripening cucumbers from rotting on the ground.
How to Grow and Care for Cucumbers
Caring for cucumbers might involve getting rid of some pests and assisting with pollination.
As with most gardening vegetables, provide the equivalent of an inch of rain a week. If it rains, skip the watering.
If your vines look wilted late in the day, check to see if the soil is dry before watering. Cucumbers transpire a lot of water during the day, which causes them to look wilted in the evening, but they’ll often perk up by morning. If they don’t, it’s definitely time to water. Water at the roots and avoid overhead sprinkling.
Cucumbers generally grow well in good garden soil with added compost. Additional fertilizer may not be needed. If you decide to fertilize, choose a fertilizer labeled for use in vegetable gardens and follow the directions on the package.
Insects and diseases
Lots of insects love cucumbers, including aphids and striped cucumber beetles. Occasionally slugs can be problematic, along with plant diseases such as powdery mildew, which shows up as a white film on the leaves.
The best defense against all of these pest problems is to grow strong, healthy plants. But if you have a bad infestation, choose the safest option first, which may include picking off the insects or their eggs.
Other good practices are to move your cucumber plants around each year so they aren’t always growing in the same spot, where those pests might be overwintering and waiting to strike again. Also, promptly remove plants once they’ve stopped producing cucumbers. If you see signs of diseases on the plants, don’t compost them — send them out with the trash.
Cucumbers need pollinators. Like most members of the squash family, cucumbers have separate male and female flowers. They need bees to get the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. If you’re not getting any cucumbers but you see blooms on the plants, or the cucumbers are small and misshapen, it may be because the flowers weren’t pollinated.
Encourage bees and other pollinators in your garden by planting flowers nearby that attract them, like zinnias or sunflowers. Occasionally you may have to hand pollinate your cucumber flowers if bees aren’t around to do it.
How to Harvest Cucumbers
Now, the fun part!
- Pick cucumbers early in the day to ensure the highest moisture content.
- Cut the cucumber off the vine instead of pulling it away.
- Wipe cucumbers off carefully to remove the little spiny growths on the skins.
- Harvest regularly to encourage plants to continue to bloom and produce more cucumbers.
How big your cucumbers should be before picking depends on the type. Small pickling-type cucumbers may be ready to harvest when just a few inches long. Other varieties may be six to eight inches long. And lemon cucumbers can be harvested when they’re about the size of a baseball.