By Barbara Fahs
Cucumbers are an essential ingredient in salads and, of course, crunchy pickles that are easy to make at home.
This member of the large Cucurbitaceae plant family is related to all types of squash, gourds, watermelons and muskmelons such as cantaloupe. If you have ever grown zucchini, growing cucumbers will be déjà vu for you.
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Cucumbers are easy to start from seed, and when you browse through seed catalogs and the websites of online seed suppliers, you will discover many more varieties than you’re likely to find as bedding plants at your local garden supply center. Think outside the box and perhaps experiment with the heirloom lemon cucumber, Asian types such as the Japanese or “Suyo Long,” or picking cucumbers such as “Pickle Bush” for the best pickles you’ll ever eat. Many more exist, so have fun shopping for seeds.
Start seeds indoors in small pots about six weeks before your final spring frost if you want to get a head start on the summer growing season. Use standard potting soil and keep seeded pots in a warm area that gets full sun all day. Cucumbers also do fine when you plant seeds directly into the garden—but wait to plant them until the last frost has passed.
Cucumbers thrive when you grow them on small hills, like zucchini and other squash. Hills are circular, elevated areas surrounded by a moat, which allows for flooding of the plants while keeping the leaves and cucumbers dry when you water them. Make your hills about three feet in diameter, several inches above the level of the surrounding soil. Always dig in a generous amount of organic compost before you plant cucumbers and other vegetables. This gives the plants better drainage and also fortifies the soil with nutrients that make your plants grow large and healthy.
If your garden is small, or if you plan to grow your cucumbers in a container on your balcony or patio, provide support for them to grow up instead of out. Planting them next to a fence or side of a building gives them easy access to a vertical growing area. If you don’t have a fence or building that can serve as a support, poke long poles into the soil a couple of inches away from the base of each plant. Or, alternatively, use purchased privacy lattice.
Spreading a two to three inch layer of mulch over the soil surface helps to keep the soil moist and also thwarts the growth of weeds. Use homemade organic compost or buy a bag at your local garden center. You can also use fallen leaves, grass clippings, wood ashes, sawdust and just about any other organic material. Less fertilizer is needed when growing cucumbers using organic mulch.
However, fertilizer is still crucial. If you want to be organic, use fish emulsion, compost tea or worm castings. Fish emulsion will have instructions for mixing on the product label. To make compost tea, fill a five-gallon bucket about one third full with well rotted compost, add water, stir and let it steep for about one day. Then use the water on your plants. To fertilize with worm castings, mix about two tablespoons of castings to each gallon of water. Cucumbers should be fertilized once each month.
Cucumber varieties: http://www.backyard-vegetable-gardening.com/cucumber-varieties.html
Seeds: www.seedsofchange.com, gurneys.com