Cool, refreshing, and a perfectly healthy snack, cucumbers deserve a spot in every garden. Whether you're interested in fresh eating or pickling, you will surely be able to find a variety that fits your space and your needs. Growing cucumbers is easy if you follow a few basic rules.
We typically divide cucumbers into two types: slicing and pickling. Slicing cucumbers are grown for fresh eating and typically grow around eight inches long, with smooth skin. Pickling cucumbers are harvested much smaller, from two to three inches for "cornichon" types, and up to four to five inches for regular pickles. Bumpy skin is a sure sign that you are growing a pickling cucumber. Of course, you can pickle "slicers" (with somewhat less tasty results), and you can eat "picklers" fresh, so whatever you're growing, it's doubtful you'll have any trouble figuring out how to eat them.
There are also the long, skinny cucumbers commonly called "yardlong cucumbers," cute little lemon-shaped ones, and "burpless" cucumbers, which don't develop seeds (and are good for those whose digestive systems find cucumbers disagreeable).
How to Grow Cucumbers
The first thing to remember is that cucumbers and cool weather do not mix. Cucumber seeds won't germinate until the soil temperature hits around 70 degrees, and plants will just sit there, not doing much of anything unless the weather is consistently warm. With this in mind, don't bother direct-sowing cucumber seeds until three to four weeks after your last frost date. You can start seeds indoors, but they grow so quickly once the weather is right, that this really doesn't save you a lot of time.
The second thing to remember is that cucumbers love water. They will need to be kept consistently moist, and once they start to set fruit, will require even more water. Regular watering and a good layer of organic mulch are essential.
Cucumbers are heavy feeders. Plant them in garden soil that has been amended with compost or composted manure. If you are growing them in containers, a good organic potting soil with a bit of compost or vermicompost will work perfectly. Feed garden-grown cucumbers monthly with fish emulsion or compost tea, and feed container-grown cukes weekly with a diluted dose of fish emulsion or compost tea, about 1/4 strength.
Finally, vining cucumbers will require a strong trellis. You could just let them ramble, but trellised cucumbers generally have higher yields and fewer pest and disease problems.
Pests and Diseases
Cucumbers are attacked most commonly by cucumber beetles and powdery mildew. Diligence and quick action are required to keep both under control.
- Slicers: Favorite heirloom slicers include 'Longfellow,' 'Japanese Climbing,' 'Marketmore,' and 'Suyo Long.' Good hybrid slicers include 'Burpless,' 'Early Pride,' and 'Fanfare.'
- Picklers: 'Little Leaf,' 'Parigno Cornichon,' 'A & C Pickling,' and 'Parisian' are all tasty, dependable pickling cucumbers.
- Cukes for containers: Some great bush-type varieties for containers are 'Bush Pickle,' 'Salad Bush,' and 'Spacemaster.'
- Something different: A few unique cucumbers to try include 'Lemon,' a little yellow heirloom that resembles (you guessed it!) a lemon; 'Richmond Green Apple,' which are beautiful, roundish bright apple green cukes, and 'Hmong Red,' a very tasty cucumber with skin that turns red as it matures.