Cucumbers, Latin name Cucumis sativus, are a plant that grows along vines and thus are efficient in their use of space since they can be grown on a trellis. Slicing cucumbers are used raw or cooked in recipes (but mostly raw), while pickling cucumbers have a rougher, bumpy skin and are pickled in brine or in vinegar and then canned.
Ideally, start cucumber seeds indoors 3 weeks before the planting date. Bottom heat of about 70 degrees F will help cucumbers thrive. You can also direct seed them in the garden no earlier than 2 weeks after the last frost. This is also when you should transplant any indoor starts. Cucumbers are very susceptible to frost damage, so don't get overeager and seed or transplant outdoors too soon.
Sow seeds in rows 6 to 10 inches apart. Plant seeds one inch deep. If transplanting seedlings, plant them roughly 12 inches apart.
Full sun is best for cucumbers. Soil should be neutral or slightly alkaline.
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How To Pick Cucumbers
Add organic matter if growing in clay, and add compost or peat to dense, heavy soil. In northern locations, lighter soils work well because they warm up more quickly.
Before planting, mix in compost or aged manure to a depth of at least two inches. Work the compost into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Soil should be moist but not soggy.
If your space is limited, consider a trellis. This also helps prevent damage to cucumber fruits. Put the trellis up early to avoid damage to the plants.
Pests and Problems:
Cucumbers require male and female flowers to be blooming at the same time in order to set fruit. This can take time and may not happen early on. It can also not happen because of lack of pollination, so if rain, cold temperatures or insecticides are a problem, this may be why you don't have fruits.
Cucumber beetles can be a problem. You will see the stems of your cuke seedlings being eaten off. Leaves will appear yellow and wilted, and you may have holes in them. Cucumber beetles are about ¼ inch long, with a yellow and black striped abdomen and a dark head and antennae. Fruits will be yellow and stunted. To control cucumber beetles, inspect plants and remove them. Use row cover. Put the plants out late, as the beetles seek young seedlings.
Whiteflies are another common pest. They are so tiny - about 1/12 of an inch long - that they can be hard to find. They produce a sticky substance called honeydew, which can cause fungal diseases to form on leaves, and will make plants weak. Growth will be stunted and leaves may turn yellow and dry. You can check for clusters of whiteflies on the undersides of leaves and feel the leaf surfaces to see if the sticky honeydew is present. To combat whiteflies, spray with insecticidal soap. Use ladybugs and spiders. Whitefly traps can also help.
Water seedlings frequently. Water one gallon a week after fruit forms.
Thin seedlings to 1.5 feet apart once they are 4 inches tall.
Side-dress plants with compost or aged manure, or use a fertilizer with low nitrogen and high potassium and phosphorus. Feed at planting, one week after bloom, and every three weeks thereafter. Overfertilizing will result in stunted fruits.
Mulch can be helpful to hold in soil moisture if needed.
Spray vines with sugar water. This attracts honeybees and will help the cucumbers set more fruit.
Harvest slicing cukes when they are 6 to 8 inches long. Harvest dill pickling varieties at 4 to 6 inches long, and 2 inches long for smaller pickles.
Don't let cukes get yellow. They taste best when they are green, crisp and firm. If left too long, skins will be tough.
Keep picking - cukes will stop producing if not picked regularly.
Cukes should be kept tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to retain water and moisture. They will keep for one week to 10 days if stored under refrigeration.
Keep refrigerated or in a cooler if transporting to the farmers market to sell, as cukes removed from refrigeration to warm will go soft very quickly.