Grow Cucumbers in Your Home Garden

   It is said that the cucumber probably originated in India. Vegetable historians say that they were introduced into China during the second century B.C. The French,in 1535, found the Indians growing it in what is now Montreal, and Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto found it being grown in what is now Florida in 1539.

   Because of its short growing season, 55 to 65 days from seed to picking size, the cucumber can find the warm microclimate it needs in almost every garden. But being a warm weather plant and very sensitive to frost, they should be direct sown only after the soil throughly warmed in spring and air temperatures are 65 to 70 degrees.

   Cucumbers respond well to generous amounts of organic matter in the soil. For special treatment, dig the planting furrow 2 feet deep and fill the foot or so with manure mixed with peat moss, compost, sawdust, or other organic material. Fill the rest of the furrow with soil, peat moss, 5-10-10 fertilizer at 2 pounds per 50 feet of row.

   To grow cucumbers in rows, leave 4 to 6 feet between the rows. Sow seed 1 inch deep, 3 to 5 seeds per foot of row. Thin the seedlings to 12 inches apart.

   To grow cucumbers in hills, space hills 2 to 3 feet apart in rows 4 to 6 feet apart. Sow 9 to 12 seeds in each hill. Thin later to 4 or 5, and finally to only 2 or 3 plants per hill. There is no specific advantage to hill planting. It probably became popular for ease of watering the young plants.

   Where the growing season is short, start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before it is time to set out transplants, which is after the frost danger has passed. Cover the transplants with hot caps or plastic to increase the temperature around the plants and protect them from an unexpected late frost.

   Since cucumber roots will grow to a depth of 3 feet in normal soil, watering should be slow and deep. If the plant is under stress from lack of moisture at any time, it simply stops growing. (It will pick back up again when moisture is supplied.) It is normal for leaves to wilt in the middle of the day during hot spells, but check the soil below the surface to make sure it is not dry.

   When space is limited you can train cucumbers on a trellis, pole, fence or other support. They will take very little ground space and produce more attractive fruit and fewer culls. Some varieties that have curved fruits when grown on the ground grow almost straight when trained on a support.

  Also, consider the midget or bush types when space is limited. They can be grown on the ground, in tubs, boxes, or even as hanging baskets.

   If the first early flowers fail to set fruit, don't worry. The male flowers open first, then in about a week you'll see flowers with baby cucumbers at their bases. These are the female flowers. If this delayed setting concerns you, try one of the self-pollinating hybrids. They set with the first blossoms.

   A lot of people have the experience of slicing into a fresh, crisp green cucumber only to find the flesh too bitter to eat. A lack of a variation in soil moisture during season has often been said to cause bitterness. Some growers feel that it is more likely to happen during cool growing seasons than warm ones. Faulty fertilization, harvest in during the wrong part of the day, and peeling in the wrong direction are also thought to contribute to the problem. Bitterness is generally more concentrated at the stem but never penetrates as deeply as the seed cavity. Usually it is just under the skin and can be peeled off. The direction of peeling has no bearing on either the amount of bitterness or the amount of flesh that is to be removed to eliminate it.

   Slicing cucumbers need to be harvested when they are 7 to 8 inches long, pickling cucumbers when they are 1-1/2 to 3 inches long for sweet pickles and larger for dill. Cut the cucumbers from the vine with a sharp knife or shears to prevent from breaking the stem.

   Keep all fruit picked from the vines as they reach usable size. The importance of this can not be over stressed, because even if a few fruits left to mature on the plant will completely stop the set of new fruit. If you don't keep up and want fruit to keep coming, share the harvest with your friends and neighbors