How to Grow and Care for Cucumbers
For a heat-loving plant, the cucumber
has all the connotations of coolness attached to it. Sliced cucumbers are still recommended to soothe hot, tired eyelids and for skin irritations. And there's nothing like sliced cucumbers in a summer salad to beat the heat.
There are many cucumber types, including picklers, slicers, gherkins, white, and bush cukes. The art of pickling and preserving cucumbers is centuries old. You can pickle or preserve any small cucumber, or eat picklers fresh right off the vine, so experiment with different varieties, regardless of how you intend to use them. In general, picklers are smallish, often warty, green, used for small sweet pickles or large dills, but the can also be eaten fresh. Slicers form 5- to 8-inch cylindrical cucumbers, used for slicing and serving fresh. Cucumbers grow best with long, hot, humid days with maximum sunshine and warm nights. Plants are extremely susceptible to frost.
Choosing a site to grow cucumbers
Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.
Sow seeds outside only after danger of frost when soil has warmed. Make a second sowing four to five weeks later for a late summer or early fall harvest. For an earlier harvest and to reduce the threat of insect damage to seedlings, start a few plants indoors in individual pots about a month before your last spring frost date.
To seed in rows, plant seeds 1 inch deep and about 6 inches apart. To plant in hills, plant four or five seeds in 1-foot-diameter circles set 5 to 6 feet apart. Set up trellises for plants to climb on. Trellised cukes are straighter and have fewer insect and disease problems.
Thin cucumber plants in rows to 1 or 2 feet apart, depending on the variety, when 3 to 4 inches tail. Thin cucumber plants in hills to the healthiest two plants when plants have two or three leaves. Keep soil evenly moist to prevent bitterness in cucumbers. Apply a thick layer of mulch about 4 weeks after planting. Contact your local County Extension office for controls of common cucumber pests such cucumber, squash vine borers, and whiteflies.
How to harvest cucumbers
Once cucumbers reach pickling or slicing size, harvest every couple of days to prevent cukes from getting overly large or yellow and to keep plants productive. Pickling varieties seem to go by their peak the fastest.