Growing Cucumbers For Yourself And The Neighbourhood

It's amazing how fast the vine keeps growing cucumbers, given the right conditions and encouragement. Prepare to feed yourself and the neighbours for the next few weeks.

Cucumber vines produce both male and female flowers. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the base of the petals. A thin stalk means this is a male flower. The female flower has a little mini cucumber underneath it.

Cucumbers are related to melons, squash and pumpkin and you can get some strange looking fruit if they grow too close together.

There are many cucumber varieties, some which are used for salads, and others like gherkins, are used as pickling cucumbers. A type referred to as 'greenhouse cucumber' has only female flowers and needs neither bees nor paint brushes to produce their fruit.

How To Grow Cucumbers, Cucumus sativus

Starting: Sow the cucumber seeds indoors on a sunny window sill and plant them out once frost is no longer a danger. You can also sow them straight where they are to grow, just a few weeks later. The seeds will germinate before two weeks, and usually much faster. You need to be planting cucumbers 50-70 cm apart. The seedlings grow fast so you'd better have a trellis or support organized from the start.

Soil: Rich loam or compost enriched with fertilizer.

Climate: Some varieties, such as gherkins will grow during summer in cold climates. Others require a greenhouse or warmer temperatures. They don't tolerate frost.

Watering: The cucumber plants need plenty of water. This is especially important to keep in mind if you're growing them in containers which tend to dry out quicker. Avoid watering leaves which can encourage mildew.

Fertilizing: Feed regularly.

Special Care: Hand pollination helps if the local bee population is not in attendance. It's as simple as getting a small brush and transferring some pollen from the male flower to the female. The young vine, however, will only have male flowers in the first week or two of flowering. Be aware also that despite your best brushing efforts not all mini cucumbers will grow. Some will just shrivel up and fall off.

You can encourage bushier growth by pinching out the top of the vine after 7-10 leaves.

Harvesting: Pick before the cucumber becomes too big. Refer to the advice given for the particular variety. If the seeds are well developed and hard you've left it for too long. Most cucumbers and their vines are prickly, so wear gloves. The thorns are easy to rub off as you harvest.

Containers: Cucumbers grow well in containers at least 20 cm deep. Plant one vine in each container. Self watering containers are useful if you tend to forget to water, as the cucumber plant doesn't like such irregularities.

Shady areas: You would have to do some trials of your own. In my garden 'Marketmore' cucumber is doing well in partial shade, but I can forget about 'Lebanese'. Always watch out for fungus and mildew in the shade where the humidity is higher.

Pests and diseases: Cucumber mosaic virus can have disastrous effects, but some varieties are resistant. Watch out for slugs and snails or cucumber beetle. Mildew and fungus can attack if the weather is wet.

Support: A cucumber trellis or some other kind of support is needed, or the weight of the growing cucumbers will pull the vine down.

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