Cucumbers are a tender heat loving plant that are part of the squash family along with melons, gherkins, courgettes, and pumpkin. Unlike their butternut, winter squash, and pumpkin cousins they are not hardy, and need careful attention from the gardener to be successful.
My favourite way of growing cucumbers is in a polytunnel. They thrive in the warm conditions, producing an early summer harvest. It is even possible to grow cucumbers on a sunny windowsill. The plants are natural climbers, so you will need to find a way to support the plants, and the heavy fruit, when they mature.
- February – May
- Planting depth: 1.5 cm
- Planting spacing: Individual pots, or 60 cm between plants, 60 cm between rows
- July to September
- Eat fresh, or pickle
I plant my cucumber seeds length ways on their ridges in already moist soil, cover with cling film, and then place on a warm windowsill to encourage germination. When cucumbers are seedlings, avoid over watering as this can kill the plants.
If growing outside, wait until the plant has several true leaves, and until the weather has warmed up during the day and night. Late June is the most likely time to transplant young cucumber plants outside. Prepare a hole with a good mixture of well rotten garden manure and compost.
Cucumbers can be left to sprawl on the ground, or staked. The advantage of staking is that it means the fruit grow above the ground, and are therefore less likely to rot. If left to sprawl, it is worth putting straw or cardboard under the fruit to keep them clean.
If growing in a polytunnel (or greenhouse), I like to support the cucumbers by training them to grow up twine, suspended from the frame of the polytunnel.
Cucumbers produce both male and female flowers. The key difference is that the male flowers do not have baby fruit growing behind them.
It is recommended to:
- Pinch out the male flowers if growing cucumbers indoors (this helps stop the fruit becoming bitter)
- Leave the male flowers on outdoor growing cucumbers
It is possible to buy cucumber seeds cultivated to only produce female flowers. This is more expensive, but a good option for a busy gardener.
When cucumbers are in flower they should not be allowed to dry out. At this stage, the plant is safe from the danger of over watering, providing their pot or soil has reasonable drainage.
The more cucumbers you pick, the more active the plant will be. Therefore it is best to pick cucumbers when relatively small, 6″ or 15cm or so in length, to encourage more to come.
Cucumbers are typically divided into indoor and outdoor types. Indoor types being longer and with thinner skins.
If there is a warm summer, and you purchase more hardy varieties, you may be able to successfully grow cucumbers outside.
There are many shapes and sizes:
- Short cucumbers for an early harvest
- Long cucumbers for a summer harvest
- Mini pickling cucumbers
- Smooth skin and prickly skin cucumbers