Getting Cute With Cukes

By Charlie Nardozzi

Cucumbers are one of the "must have" vegetables for a summer salad garden. I still have fond memories of picking cucumbers as a kid, sprinkling them with salt, and munching away right there in the garden. Whether you're growing slicing cucumbers for fresh salads or pickling cucumbers for canning, there are a host of varieties available to whet your appetite. Some of the best slicing varieties available include 'Slice Master', 'Sweet Slice', and 'Dasher II'. These hybrids produce 8-inch-long fruits on plants with multiple disease resistance. They mature in about 60 days from seeding.

If you like the small size and crisp texture of pickling cucumbers, try 'Homemade Pickles', 'National Pickling', or 'Calypso'. These can be harvested at only a few inches long up to 6 inches long at 55 to 60 days from seeding.

For something unusual, try an 'Armenian Yard Long' cucumber. This variety grows 2- to 3-feet long at maturity. The pale green fruits have a mild flavor. For small space gardeners, try a container sized cucumber. 'Pot Luck' vines grow only 1 to 2 feet long while still producing 6-inch-long slicing cucumbers that are disease resistant.

For more information on these and other great cucumber varieties, go to Willhite's cucumber variety page.


Growing Cucumbers

Cucumbers grow best during warm, humid weather, so don't rush to plant them in the garden until after the soil warms to 60° F. Amend the soil with a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of compost before planting. Plant cucumbers directly from seed, or start them indoors 3 to 4 weeks in advance of outdoor planting under grow lights. Plant seeds 6 inches apart in rows, or sow 3 to 4 seeds in 1-foot diameter hills. Hills can be flat circles if you're growing on loamy or sandy soil, or raised 6 inches high for better water drainage on clay soil.

You might consider mixing in some radish seed around the cucumbers. Radishes are quick to germinate, and they act as a trap crop for some insects, while repelling other bugs, such as cucumber beetles. You can harvest the radishes before the cucumber vines get too large, or just pull and destroy them if they're infested with bugs.

Cucumber Care

Keep the plants well weeded and watered. Side-dress the young plants once they start vining with a handful of organic or chemical fertilizer, such as 5-5-5 or a 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of compost. Once the soil warms, mulch around plants with a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of organic mulch, such as hay, straw, or pine straw. The mulch will keep weeds at bay and keep the soil evenly moist.

Be on the lookout for cucumber's number one foe; cucumber beetles. These black- and yellow-striped or dotted beetles attack young cucumber plants and fruits. Not only do they cause damage by their feeding, but they also spread bacterial wilt disease. Control these beetles when you see them by dusting plants with an organic control, such as pyrethrum spray.

Keep on Picking

Harvest slicing cucumbers when they are 4 to 8 inches long. Don't let them get much larger than 8 inches or they will be filled with seeds. Harvest pickling cucumbers at the size you like them for making pickles. Here's an easy dill pickle recipe to try this summer.

Dill Pickles

Per quart jar add:

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 2 heads fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dill weed
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 2 cups water

Wash quart jars. In each jar put salt, mustard seed, and dill. Sort the cucumbers according to size and put similar-sized cukes in each jar, so they pickle uniformly. Use only small cucumbers or spears. Leave one inch of headspace at the top of the jar.

Measure vinegar and water for each filled jar and heat to boiling. Pour hot liquid into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust lids and process 10 minutes in a hot water bath. For more on growing cucumbers, go to Virtual Vegetable Guides at:

Question of the Week

Weeding Asparagus

Q. What is the best way to weed my asparagus patch?

A. One answer has to be "frequently and well," but an easier way to handle weeds is to prevent them from growing in the first place. Once the spears start growing, lay a 4- to 6-inch-thick layer of mulch over the bed. If the mulch is refreshed periodically, it will prevent weeds from germinating and keep the soil cool and moist. Larger weeds can be pulled individually or, in some cases, perennial weeds can be controlled by cutting them off repeatedly at the ground until their root reserves become exhausted. In summer when the asparagus has stopped growing new shoots and you let it grow into ferns, lay several layers of newspaper on the ground and cover with more mulch to help smother any persistent weeds.

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