Biting into a piece of crisp cucumber is sure to make any summer just that much brighter. No matter how you eat cucumbers, enjoyment is sure to be part of the package. Cucumbers are also fairly easy to grow, much to the delight of veggie gardeners everywhere, as they thrive in hardiness zones 4-11 and can be grown quickly in about any location regardless of space due to the plant’s tendency to climb upwards. If this is something you desire, a trellis is a good way to achieve such growth.
Cucumbers like warm weather and should be planted outdoors in temperatures no lower than 70 degrees (65 for germination). They can be started indoors, however, about three weeks prior to exterior temperatures rising to a desired number. Temperature is important because the cucumber is a warm-season vegetable that is highly susceptible to damage by frost. Full sunlight is best as is soil that is either neutral or slightly alkaline. Ideal pH is between 6.0 and 7.0 and seeds should be planted at a depth of at least six inches.
An important part of growing cucumbers is adding organic matter to the soil. Both compost and aged manure are useful to cucumber plants and should be added as a side dressing to plants. This should be a part of the equation not only when planting but also a repeated process after vines and flowers begin to develop. Alternately it is possible to use commercial fertilizer that is low in nitrogen but high in potassium and phosphorous. Should plant leaves appear yellow, this is an indication that there is not quite enough nitrogen, but be careful when correcting this not to over-fertilize as this can stunt plant growth. Mulch is also useful when it comes to retaining moisture as the cucumber plant loves water. Regular watering is necessary as sporadic watering can create a bitter cucumber. Water at the base of the plant early in the morning for best results.
In order for cucumbers to develop, the presence of both male and female flowers is necessary. Unfortunately the first flowering of a plant is sometimes all male so it could take some time to see cucumbers. When both flower genders are present, you can encourage the presence of bees by spraying the plant with sugar water as this will draw them and aid in the spread of pollen. If you are using row covers, such as to prevent cucumber beetles that spread wilt, these will need to be removed for pollination to occur.
When to harvest your cucumbers depends on their type and what you have planned for them, but one sure thing is that the more cucumbers you pick, the more your plant will grow. If you wish to make pickles, harvest dills when they ready 4-6 inches in length; the same rule applies to Middle Eastern varieties. American slicers should be harvested at 6-8 inches in length. Asian cucumbers should grow to 8-12 inches. Additionally, you should pick cucumbers that are a consistent shade of green rather than yellow. Waiting too long to pick will result in tough exteriors with hard seeds, so be sure to monitor growth to determine optimum harvest times.
Once you have grown and harvested a delicious crop of cucumbers, all that remains is to enjoy them with your friends and family. Store cucumbers in the fridge until ready to use, pulling them out to snack on as needed. Refrigerated cucumbers should last approximately one week. Considering how great they taste, it is unlikely they will be around that long, so grab a hold of a cucumber and enjoy it while you can!