Growing Cucumbers

When deciding which cucumbers to grow, home gardeners have lots of different varieties to choose from.  Depending on their garden space, growers can opt for vining cucumbers, which are prolific plants that do well with trellising, or bush cucumbers, which grow short, compact vines that are ideal for containers and other small spaces.  Beyond that, there are many types of slicing cucumbers, which produce larger fruit that tastes great in salads, and pickling cucumbers, which have thinner skins and fewer seeds making them great for pickling.  Whatever variety you choose, cucumbers are vigorous and productive plants that are very easy to grow if you know where to start.

When growing cucumbers, it is important to select a spot in your garden that will provide the conditions cucumbers need to thrive.  Cucumbers do best in full-sun and when planted in fertile, well-drained soil with a pH range of between 6.5 to 7.0.  Before planting, mix compost, aged manure or other rich organic matter into the top few inches of your soil to provide your cucumbers with the nutrients they need.  Cucumbers are not frost hardy, so plant your seeds two weeks after your last frost date and when temperatures average around 75°F.  If you want to get a head start on your growing season, sow your cucumber seeds indoors three weeks before you intend to transplant them out.  To improve germination rates, use a heat mat underneath your cucumber seedling trays.

To begin planting, sow your seeds 1” deep and space then 2 to 3 feet apart, or 1 foot apart for trellised plants.  If you’re planting vining varieties, consider installing a trellising system, such as trellis netting, cucumber cages or a cattle panel, before planting your seeds so that your vines have somewhere to climb.  Trellised plants take up less space and are less prone to diseases and insect damage.  After you have planted your seeds, apply a layer of mulch to help retain moisture, repel insects, keep fruits clean and reduce weeds.  Cucumber seeds can be succession planted every two weeks until midsummer to maximize your harvest.

Cucumbers are heavy feeders, so throughout the growing season, apply an organic liquid fertilizer or side dress your plants with a bit of aged manure or compost every two to three weeks.  Consistent watering schedules are extremely important when growing cucumbers as inconsistently watered plants can produce bitter fruit.  Cucumbers need about 1” of water weekly, or more in dry conditions.  Water your plants when the top 1” of soil feels dry to the touch.  To reduce the risk of mildew and mold, only water in the morning or install a dripline system, soaker hose or hand water at the base of your plants.  To encourage pollinators to visit, try companion planting your cucumbers with dill or mint to increase your harvest.

Many cucumber varieties will begin producing ripe fruit as soon as six weeks after planting.  Harvest fruit when it is a usable size, roughly 6-8” long for slicing varieties and 2” for pickling cucumbers.  Pick cucumbers every two to three days, as more frequent harvesting encourages your plants to produce more fruit.  Always harvest your cucumbers with a knife or garden shears and try not to pull on the vines to prevent damage.  Avoid allowing your cucumbers to overripen and turn yellow as they will develop a bitter flavor.  Fresh cucumbers can be stored in your refrigerator for 7 to 10 days.  If you find yourself overrun by cucumbers, excess can be pickled or frozen.

To save cucumber seeds, only choose open-pollinated heirloom varieties, rather than hybrids.  Allow your cucumbers to fully ripen on their vines until they have turned yellow or orange.  Once harvested, place your seeds in a bucket with a bit of water and allow them to ferment for three days to eliminate diseases and separate viable seeds.  After three days, pour off the pulp, place your seeds on a screen or paper towel and allow them to fully dry before storing.

If you want to grow cucumbers this season, take a peek at some of our favorite heirloom varieties.  We love our lemon cucumbers, which produce fruit that is the same color, size and shape as a lemon!  All resemblance to lemons ends there, however, because lemon cucumbers have surprisingly sweet flesh that tastes great pickled or eaten fresh in salads.  For a traditional slicing cucumber, try our straight eight cucumber, which is named for the perfectly straight fruits it produces.  A vigorous and productive grower, straight eights have a bright, crisp flavor and grow exceptionally well on fences or trellis netting.