Cucumbers are a vegetable that makes a great example for why home-grown food tastes better than store bought. A fresh cucumber right off the vine is crunchy and juicy at the same time, slightly sweet and just a little tangy. Many people that believe they don’t like the taste of cucumbers have often just been misled by their store-bought brothers. These can end up tasting like cardboard, ridding themselves of a future on the cutting board and vegetable spreads.
Many people may think that cucumbers are really only water with little nutritional flavor. However, other than their sought-after flavor, cucumbers are high in levels of vitamins B and is chalk full of electrolytes. Additionally, for the many people out there that don’t drink as much as they should, the fact that they have a high water content isn’t a bad thing! Cucumbers are even used by some as a cure for hangovers! The reason why they are commonly used in spas is because they are high in ascorbic and caffeic acid and can ease some of the swelling and skin irritation that shows around the eyes with exhaustion or stress.
With all of these alluring qualities, who wouldn’t want to consider themselves a great grower of the cucumber. Although for some people growing cucumbers may be a bit tricky or seem daunting, they really are a friendly food. Below we have gathered some of the best hints, the top tips and a few tricks for growing the best cucumbers around. This list is just about chronological, starting with ideas to use in the beginning and then a couple of helpful pieces of advice for the harvest and continuation of your plants.
11 Tips for Growing the Best Cucumbers
1. Disease resistant varieties
Cucumbers are known to be a bit fragile when it comes to pests and diseases. It should be a testament to their incredible flavor that everything else wants a piece of them as well! However, when looking for varieties to plant, try to do a bit of research or talk to fellow gardeners in your area. Doing some recon on the most common diseases in your neighborhood can help to make a good and lasting choice on a resistant variety. It will also be an important choice because the variety helps to dictate what kind of flavor and use they will be best for, for example pickling cucumbers or for just eating. A couple of good varieties include:
Marketmore 97: Generally, a nice, sweet, eating pickle. Known to be very disease resistant.
Orient Express: A bit more of a tangy, Eastern variety. Has thin skins and the vines are very tolerant to many diseases.
Holland Hothouse: Not at all bitter and they are burp-less. Has a cool taste, not as known for being disease resistant though.
2. Plan Ahead; Don’t Roast Them
Cucumbers really love a lot of sun. In sites with full sun, they will thrive. However, it is important to maintain a certain temperature around the plants as well. The vines are extremely sensitive to the heat and it can actually impact their quality of fruit along with the growth rate if it is consistently very hot. If this is the case for the area that you live in, consider growing them in a small greenhouse. If this isn’t an option for you, then place a shade cloth over the vines that will protect them from the hottest sun of the day during the afternoon. This will really help keep the temperature down as well.
3. Build a Trellis
When you are getting ready to plant your cucumbers, it is good to prepare their site as well. This will also help to make your life, as the gardener, much easier. You have already thought about the type of sun and temperature that cucumbers need. Now, prepare for their growth. A cucumber is a vining plant whose vegetables will grow off from the flowers. Building a sort of trellis from string or wood will be extremely helpful in the care and harvest of this plant. If you choose to string it up, it can be done either entirely vertically or at a slight curve to allow the harvest get underneath and clip the mature vegetable from the vine.
4. Get a head start
Know that everything has been prepared, it is time to get down to brass tacks. Cucumber plants should not be planted too early as they are extremely sensitive to frost. One brush and the vines will die. Instead, to get an early jump on the growing season, plant the seeds indoors. This way you can monitor their climate and get them sprouting so they are ready to go when the temperature is just right. Starting them in a shallow tray in a sunny spot will allow them to sprout well, especially if they are soaked in water the night before planting.
5. Fertile soil
Cucumbers will really thrive year after year if the soil they are planted in is fertile enough. Adding some sort of compost to their soil mix and being sure to fertilize them will really help get the quality vegetable you are looking for. Cucumbers also prefer a soil pH between 6 and 7. While they will still grow if the pH balance is off, it may be affecting their flavor if you think it is slightly off what it should be.
6. Keeping it Close
Be sure to give your plants enough of their own space. Rows of cucumbers should be thinned so that they are one or two feet apart from each other. If you have them all in a line along a trellis or a similar structure, then be sure that there is about a foot between them. This will also make growing them easier for you when it comes time to harvest. Planting them too close means that the vines get tangled and instead you have a cucumber jungle!
Although many people wouldn’t think it, soil temperature is also important when thinking about the taste of a cucumber. Adding mulch to the soil around the cucumber will help to keep the soil temperature lower. Any part of the plant dealing with the stress of consistently higher temperature will not have as cool and fresh a taste as they should. After fertilizing, throw on a thick layer of mulch to protect those roots.
8. Dry = Bitter
The number one factor in bitter taste, most growers will tell you, is the moisture level of the cucumbers. Cucumbers are native to naturally wetter regions of the world. This means that they will not be in their prime whenever the soil is allowed to completely dry out around them. Keeping the soil evenly moist around the roots will help to keep that cool taste. Cucumbers are made up of a lot of water. They need it to develop the right way. A big note on the “even watering”. Overwatering them can also kill them or affect their taste. Keeping a normal watering pattern that keeps them a little moist always with a couple of deep watering sessions a week.
9. Use Natural Insecticides
Think of the structure of a cucumber. We have thought about the juicy, crunchy interior, but on many of the common varieties of cucumbers the outer skin is pretty thin. This means that it is easily broken though and sometimes a cucumber may even act a bit like a sponge. All insecticides should be tested and should be alright to use on any vegetable patch. However, keeping yourself and your family safe should always be a priority and a great way to do that is to use natural and less toxic pesticides. Try using things like kaolin clay. It is a repellant for most species and is a great preventative measure.
10. Get them dressed
Starting off with a good soil mixture has already been mentioned as a great way to keep your cucumber harvest going strong throughout the season. Another great way to continue this theme is to side-dress your plants. This is done by putting two large handfuls of compost or a mix of fertilizer along both sides of where the vine is growing from. This puts it right in an easily accessible place for the plant without disturbing the soil around the new roots too much, if at all.
11. Harvest frequently
Once the cucumbers begin to really mature, it is time to get ready for rounds of harvesting. If a cucumber is allowed to grow too big, the texture will start to deteriorate, and the outside layer of the plant may begin to get too hard. Once a cucumber is ready, harvest it immediately so that the vine can put its energy into the next fresh veggie. Then, be sure to be in the garden and checking the cucumbers that were close the day before. Harvesting frequently instead of waiting to do a larger round of cucumbers will mean catching them when their flavor is still fresh and cool at the same time as being as big as they can without sacrificing the flavor.