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Summertime in our garden in the Salt Lake valley tends to be an ideal environment to grow a variety of Cucumis Sativus (the botanical name for cucumbers, a vegetable which thrives in USDA “Hardiness Zones” 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 11 (our garden is a “5-B”). These warm season lovers enjoy full sun, however a little shade in the extreme Utah afternoon heat seems to be help perk up any afternoon wilt.
We enjoy growing our cucumbers in containers (details and pictures from Gradi’s Organic Garden are available at this link) with soil we obtained directly from our garden, worms and mulch worked in. The soil does not require any specific pH, rather neutral or slightly alkaline, about 7.0. These plants are perfect to grow near fences, trellises or tomato cages due to their need and ability to cling and climb with curling tendrils.
The leaves can become quite large (our plants now have a few of 9-10 inches or so) and require a little misting in the morning and sometimes in the evenings after a particularly sweltering day. We provide approximately 1 inch of water per week, and add a lot of mulch (which we obtain from our HOA gardeners for free on a weekly basis). The mulch serves to protect the soil from erosion as well as provide essential nutrients.
We started our garden this year from seed, and details from our Spring Garden Primer can be accessed via this link.
For this season, we started our seeds inside about 4 weeks prior to the last expected hard freeze. Knowing what type of weather to expect is always an important component of any successful gardener. We utilize two national sites (wunderground.com and weather.com) in addition to local weather sites. By using sunlight and keeping the room warm and free of cats, we were able to get a great start to our garden without the need for any expensive equipment or lights.
The rule of thumb (according to my great-grandmother) was to transplant the seeds into our Utah ground no earlier than 2 weeks after the last frost date. Cucumbers can be extremely susceptible to frost damage and the outside soil (container or ground) must be at least 65ºF for germination.
Sow seeds in rows, 1 inch deep and 6 to 10 inches apart or transplant seedlings in rows, about 12 inches apart.
Trellises are very important in cucumber production. The little yellow blossoms can each evolve into a full grown cucumber and must be given sufficient light and support. By building trellises and support prior to planting, the gardener will have much less chance of damaging the plants during the transplantation process.
If you have worked organic matter into the soil before planting, you may only need to side-dress your plants with compost or well-rotted manure or grass clippings.
Water consistently. We check our garden every morning prior to the full on assault of Utah morning sun by placing a finger in the soil, and when it is dry past the first joint of your finger, it is time to water. Inconsistent watering leads to bitter-tasting fruit. Water slowly in the morning or early afternoon, avoiding the leaves and always at soil level.
Both male and female cucumber plants must be blooming at the same time to set fruit and may not occur early in the plant’s life, so patience is always recommended.
Lack of fruit may also be due to poor pollination by bees, especially if prevented by rain, cold temperatures, or insecticides. Gynoecious hybrids require pollinator plants – click this link for specific cucumber types and and terminology from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Cucumber Beetles (pictured to the right)
As summer heats up, the time to harvest can come quickly. We tend to harvest regular (slicing) cucumbers when they are about 6-8 inches long. Cucumbers intended for dill pickles can be harvested at 4 to 6 inches long and pickles at as little as 2 inches. The larger burpless cucumbers can be up to 10 inches long and some types are even larger, although if they are left on the vine too long, they can become bitter or yellow. The highest quality cucumber is uniformly green, firm and crisp.
At peak harvesting time, you should be picking cucumbers every couple of days. Pay attention to what the plant is telling you. Check plants daily, ensuring no fruit is laying on the ground, rotting and that the tendrils and leaves are growing where you want them. Training cucumber vines and picking them as they ripen will ensure longer and healthy vegetable production.
As cucumbers are over 90% water, they must be stored tightly in plastic wrap and properly refrigerated. They will keep (on average) 7-10 days when properly stored and delicious in dozens of recipes and applications.
We certainly have enjoyed growing organic cucumbers this season and look forward to a healthy harvest. Please check back with Ladybud Magazine for follow up articles on adventures in canning.
For a spectacular recipe for Summer Cucumber Tomato Salad click this link.
For a recipe for Quick Fridge Pickles click here.
Photo Credit USDA Zone Hardiness Map: By Henry M. Cathey while Director, U.S. National Arboretum, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20002 Edited, formatted and prepared for the US National Arboretum web site by Ramon Jordan, March 1998 & Revised March 2001 Special thanks to Jody Shuart and Scott Bauer, ARS Information Staff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit “Spotted cucumber beetle:” Pollinator under (CC BY 2.5) via Wikiamedia Commons
Photo Credit Garden images: Gradi Jordan