Slicing cucumbers and pickling cucumbers: that’s how cucumbers are divided. It is said that the ancient Roman Emperor Tiberius demanded cucumbers on his table every day of the year. The story does not say if they were slicing or pickling cucumbers; maybe both.
The English or Holland or European cucumber are thick meated and seedless; the Armenian cucumber or Syrian or Turkish cucumber are pale green and curled; the lemon cucumber is shaped like a lemon and yellow: they are slicing cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers include the small West Indian Gherkin and the larger National Pickling.
“Cool as a cucumber” means you are about 20 degrees cooler than the outside air on a warm day, that is if you are a cucumber. That is said to be a scientific fact. For the kitchen gardener, “cool as a cucumber” may simply mean keeping cool in the face of a lot of cucumbers at harvest time.Slicing cucumbers are usually eaten raw on sandwiches or salads but may be cooked—prepared like squash. Cucumbers can replace squash in most recipes.
Here are cucumber growing basics for your kitchen garden:
Site. Cucumbers grow best in full sun but will grow with just 5 hours of sun a day. Cucumbers are very tender vegetables; they need temperatures of 70°F (21ºC) or warmer to grow well. They grow best in growing zones 4–12. If you allow cucumber vines to sprawl on the ground you will need about 9 square feet (2.7 sq m) per plant. You can grow cucumbers vertically; place them next to a fence or a trellis.
Container growing. Cucumbers will grow in containers: choose a container at least 8 inches (20 cm) wide and 12 inches (30 cm) deep. Use a trellis or support the vine to increase yields.
Soil. Cucumbers prefer well-drained sandy loam supplemented with compost or well-rotted manure.
Planting. You can direct sow cucumber seed in spring after all danger of frost has passed and soil has warmed to 70°F (21°C). Seed will not germinate at a soil temperature below 50°F (10°C). Sow seed ¾–1 inch (1.9–3.8 cm) deep, thinned to 36 inch (90 cm) apart. Cucumbers require 55–65 frost-free days to mature.
To get a head start on the season, sow cucumbers in peat pots 3–5 weeks before planting out. Transplant cucumbers out into the garden after the soil has warmed and the weather settled. For successive crops, plant cucumbers every 2 weeks until midsummer.
Watering. Cucumbers require moderate water before flowering. Heavy watering from flowering to harvest will result in a larger crop. Avoid overhead watering.
Feeding. Cucumbers are heavy feeders. They prefer ample amounts of phosphorus and potassium and a moderate amount of nitrogen. Add compost and phosphorus to the soil before planting.
Spray cucumbers with fish emulsion or compost tea 1–2 times per month during the growing season. Fertilize with blood meal during the period before blooming.
Companions. Cucumbers grow well with bush beans, broccoli, cabbage family, corn, dill, eggplant, kale, lettuce, melon, nasturtium, peas, pumpkins, radish, squash, sunflower, and tomatoes. Avoid plating cucumbers with potatoes and herbs.
Pests. Aphids, cucumber beetles and other beetles and insects can attack cucumbers. Floating row covers will protect young plants before they bloom. After blooming, pinch out infested vegetation or hose off aphids or cucumber beetles, and hand pick cutworms, slugs, snails, and squash bugs.
Diseases. Several plant viruses and fungi can plague cucumbers. Plant disease resistant varieties, and remove and destroy infected plants. Do not grow cucumbers or their relatives, such as squash and melons, in the same spot more often than once every 3 years.
Harvest. Cucumbers are ready for harvest usually from midsummer onwards. Harvest cucumbers 3–4 times per week as fruit matures; this allows the setting of new flowers and fruit. Harvest when the fruit is elongated and the seeds are still succulent.
Varieties. Choose from these slicing cucumbers: ‘Marketmore’, ‘General Lee’, ‘Bush Champion’, ‘Salad Bush’, ‘Sweet Success’. Choose from these picklers: ‘Pickalot’, ‘Pioneer’, ‘Little Leaf’, ‘Northern Pickling’. Others cucumber types include: ‘Suyo Long” an Asian slicing; ‘Lemon’ is lemon shaped, and ‘Armenian’. For containers, choose ‘Pot Luck’, ‘Bush Champion’, ‘Spacemaster’, ‘Patio Pik’, ‘Salad Bush’.