2014: Year of the Cucumber
Each year, the National Garden Bureau selects one annual, perennial and vegetable to be the plant of the season. This year, the vegetable they have selected is the cucumber. Cucumbers are among the most popular vegetables to grow in your garden. This is not just because so many people enjoy eating them, but because they are so easy to grow.
Cucumbers fall into two categories for growing: pickling and slicing. These classifications are somewhat self-explanatory. Slicing cucumbers are best for eating fresh out of the garden, in salads or on sandwiches. Pickling cucumbers are best for preserving and making pickles with. These varieties tend to be smaller cucumbers, such as your Gherkins that you see in the stores.
You will also notice the term “Burpless” on some cucumber tags. This refers to the fact that these varieties do not have a bitter taste. This bitter taste is called a burp and is a result of a natural biochemical compound that is present in some varieties.
Cucumbers have two growing habits, either vine or bush. Bush cucumbers are more compact and ideal for container growing. Vining cucumber plants either need plenty of space to stretch out, or some sort of trellis to climb as they grow. They may need a little bit of help getting trained onto the trellis, but once there, they will produce plenty of fruits for you.
Once you have selected your cucumbers to grow, either from seed or seedlings, you need to make sure you have plenty of sun. Cucumbers not only need full sun, but they want well-drained soil that is amended with compost or organic fertilizer. If the soil is too wet, there is a good chance that cucumbers will not have good production and are more likely to fall to disease. If planting in a container, it is very important that the container have at least one drainage hole for extra water to escape from. You also need to make sure the soil is plenty warm before planting your cucumbers, waiting until after the last frost or being sure you can protect them if it does frost.
When your cucumbers are planted, be sure to water them in and keep the water coming. Cucumbers like lots of water, so be sure to give them a thorough watering rather than a quick sprinkle here and there. You can mulch the soil around the cucumbers to help keep the soil from drying out so quickly. If you have a container garden of cucumbers, be sure to water it frequently, as pots tend to dry out quicker than garden soil.
When the cucumbers are ready to be harvested, it will seem like you are picking them non-stop. Mature cucumbers should not be left on the vine, as this will signal the plant to stop production. Most slicing varieties are mature when they grow to be six to eight inches in length, while pickling varieties are ready once they are between one and four inches.
Cucumbers are an easy, high-yielding crop to grow in your garden or a container. Once you slice your first home-grown cucumber, you will know exactly why you put the effort in to growing them. Not to mention, you will be a very popular in the neighborhood because you will have so many to give out!