Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) originates in southern Asia, but a large number of cultivars have been developed and are grown worldwide. It is a widely cultivated plant of the family Cucurbitaceae. It is a creeping vine that bears cylindrical fruits that are used as culinary vegetables.
There are three main varieties of cucumber:
• Pickling, and
Within these varieties, several different cultivars have emerged.
The cucumber is a herbaceous trailing annual capable of spreading in all directions. The root system is in the form of a tap root that penetrates de
Importance of Cucumber[i]
Rehydrates body and replenishes daily vitamins - Cucumbers are 95 % water, keeping the body hydrated while helping the body eliminates toxins. Cucumbers have most of the vitamins the body needs in a single day. The skin contains a good amount of vitamin C, about 10 % of the daily-recommended allowance.
Skin and hair care - it can be used for skin irritations and sunburns. The silicon and sulfur in cucumbers help to stimulate hair growth.
Aids in weight loss and digestion - Due to its low calorie and high water content, cucumber is an ideal diet for people who are looking for weight loss. The high water content and dietary fiber in cucumbers are very effective in ridding the body of toxins from the digestive system, aiding digestion. Daily consumption of cucumbers can be regarded as a remedy for chronic constipation.
Cures diabetes, reduces cholesterol and controls blood pressure - Cucumber juice contains a hormone which is needed by the cells of the pancreas for producing insulin which has been found to be beneficial to diabetic patients. Researchers found that a compound called sterols in cucumbers may help reduce cholesterol levels. Cucumbers contain a lot of potassium, magnesium and fiber. These work effectively for regulating blood pressure. This makes cucumbers good for treating both low blood pressure and high blood pressure.
They are also rich in vitamin A, B1, B6, C & D, Folate, Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium.
Cucumber does well on a well drained soil, often planted on raised beds. It also thrives in a sandy loam soil. It requires a good amount of sunshine and warmth and is mostly grown in green house. It requires space and can rapidly reach around 6 feet. . They can be allowed to spread over the ground and where space is limited train the plant against a wall, stake
A well drained fertile soil with a pH of 6.0 - 7.0 is important for cucumbers and so they are often planted in raised beds around 6 inches high. Cucumbers will thrive in a sandy loam soil. Ensure the soil has a good amount of organic matter within it; manure will give the plants the nutrients they require.
Irrigation and drainage
The water requirements of cucumber are high. Even though the growing period may have enough rainfall overall for the crop, periodic droughts may occur during each growing season. Therefore, water should be applied regularly on weekly basis.
Weed regularly but be careful not to go below a couple of centimeters with your hoe as you may damage the root system which will slow down plant growth.
Cucumber requires a warm climate. In cool, temperate countries it is grown in greenhouses; only during hot summers can it be grown in the open. The optimum temperature for growth is about 30°C and the optimum night temperature 18–21°C; the minimum temperature for good development is 15°C. High light intensity is needed for optimum yields. Cucumber needs a fair amount of water but it cannot stand water logging. Low relative humidity results in high plant evaporation due to the large leaf area, and sufficient irrigation is then very important. High relative humidity facilitates the occurrence of downy mildew. In tropical Africa elevations up to 2000 m appear to be suitable for cucumber cultivation. In Nigeria, cucumbers are grown majorly in the North particularly Jos; due to the climatic requirements. However, according to the research conducted at the department of soil Science University of Nigeria shows that cucumber can grow anywhere giving the right production method and management of the environmental factor.
Growing cucumber in the South[ii]:
The yield of cucumber is enormous, it is great. Well if the rain is so much, it distorts its production. Excessive precipitation is not good for cucumber. With moderate rainfall, it’s now grown in the southern part with favorable yield compare with that grown in Jos.
What is required include:
• a very good land preparation,
• sufficient organic manure, and liberal application of organic manure
If the rain is moderate, the cucumber will yield very well in South Eastern Nigeria. The beautiful thing about cucumber is that the duration of growth to harvest is short.
Propagation and planting
Cucumber is propagated by seed. During soil preparation generous incorporation of organic manure (about 25–35 t/ha) is required. About 1–3 kg of seed is needed per ha depending on the method of sowing. Direct sowing, which is still a common practice especially in open fields, requires larger amounts of seed. When direct sown, cucumbers are planted on hills, 90–120 cm apart, with several seeds per hill and thinned to 2–3 plants, or they are sown in rows 1–2 m apart and thinned to 30 cm between plants.
Planting on raised beds will improve drainage, which is especially important during the rainy season, and can support good root development. Weed control is necessary until the plants cover the soil entirely. Support (stakes) can be provided, which will generally improve fruit quality, reduce disease incidence through better air circulation in the crop, and make it easier to pick the fruits. Irrigation is required at short intervals; a high level of soil moisture should be maintained throughout the growing period. The use of drip irrigation is highly recommended for an optimum and uniform use of available water.
Fertilizers can be included in the drip system. Cucumber responds well to fertilizers. In addition to the initial organic manure, a general recommendation is 700 kg/ha of an NPK mixture, followed by N fertilizer every 2–3 weeks until the fruits form. However, it is always best to base fertilizer gifts on a soil analysis before planting. Micronutrients are also essential for a good development; shortages can result in strong deficiency symptoms in plants and fruits, leading to lower and low-quality yields.
The tip of the main stem may be nipped off to encourage branching; in plants with very strong vegetative growth lateral shoots may be pruned after the first fruits have formed to limit leaf and flower production.
Diseases and pests
Many diseases and pests can affect cucumber in all stages of development. Leaf diseases that can result in serious damage are the fungal diseases downy mildew, powdery mildew, anthracnose, target leaf spot and gummy stem blight, as well as the bacterial disease angular leaf spot.
Anthracnose also causes symptoms on fruits. Good air circulation, for example through trellising, reduces the incidence of these diseases to some extent. Other wilting in cucumber may be caused by soil borne Fusarium wilt, or bacterial wilt , which is spread by cucumber beetles.
Cucumber is susceptible to damping off, resulting in seedling death soon after emergence; it occurs more often when the soil is poorly drained, and can be caused by several fungi, e.g. Pythium spp. or Phytophthora spp., some of which can also cause root rot in older plants.
A general recommendation is to grow cucumber only on sites where no other cucurbits have been grown for a number of years, to prevent soil borne diseases
Aphids, whitefly and thrips are insects that can cause major problems, mainly because they act as vectors for viruses or diseases. General insect damage may be caused by beetles, leaf miners and leaf hoppers.
The use of natural insect enemies is a more environmentally friendly method than spraying chemicals against pests, but until now it has mainly or exclusively been practised in protected cultivation of cucumber.
Cucumber fruits for fresh consumption are harvested before they are fully mature; depending on the type this can be 1–2 weeks after flowering. The moment of first harvest is 40–60 days after sowing, depending on climate and cultivar. Harvesting is done every other day to every few days.
Economic potential of cucumber
Cucumbers are used widely in a wide variety of salads. Due the continue realization of the importance of fruits in our diets and the overwhelming importance of cucumber’s health benefits along with skin care ; there is increasing demand for the product in Nigeria.
Production and international trade[iii]
In 2002 the world area under Cucumber was estimated at about 2 million ha, with a total production of 36 million tones. Asia is the world leader, with China alone accounting for over 60%. Cucumber is grown in all countries of tropical Africa, but nowhere on a large scale. In 2002 Africa produced 507,000 tons on 25,000 ha, accounting for just less than 1.5% of production. Egypt is the largest African producer with 360,000 tons. International trade in 2002 amounted to 1.5 million tons, with Mexico, the Netherlands and Spain as the main exporters; international trade from African countries is modest and unrecorded.
The demand for the product locally is far overwhelming accounting for its high cost in the market and a worthwhile Agribusiness with high degree of turnover over 200%.