LET’S TALK CUCUMBERS.
Cucumbers are one of those versatile fruits that any home grower (or home cook) would declare a wonderful addition to any patch. Edible fresh or roasted, pickled or steamed, there’s an endless amount of delicious applications for the humble cucumber at any garden party or dinner table.
And for those wanting to impress their guests at these rendezvous, why not drop “cucumis sativus” into the conversation (get back to me with how it goes down).
WHEN TO PLANT.
Cucumbers are essentially the surfer kids of the plant world, loving nothing more than an endless summer sun and water.
- Cooler Climates – October through December
- Temperate Climates – September through January
- Warmer Climates – August through March
WHERE TO PLANT.
Picking the ideal location for your cucumber really depends on your climate, as well as the structural space you have for fruit that loves to climb.
In cooler parts of Australia you ideally want a spot that gathers full sun across the day to keep your cucumbers happy. In warmer regions, the hot sun can actually lead to problems like scarring so you might be better to plant cucumbers in a slightly shaded area (around 40% shade during the day if the air is warm). Alternatively you can invest in shade cloth or similar to take the edge off those hotter Australian days.
We also mentioned that cucumbers need support as they are essentially a vine and will be looking for help getting the space they need to grow properly. Wire or trellis support (or even the humble fence) all can do the job, so have a think about these structures when planting out.
If you want to go “max sustainable”, you can even use corn stalks as a natural trellis to not only save on time and cost setting up a bamboo or wooden trellis, but also save on space in your veggie patch which is paramount for urban gardeners with only a few square metres to use. Two crops in one!
Ground conditions are the biggest factor in ensuring a good crop of cucumbers, and doing some preparation before planting can really make the difference.
Make sure the soil isn’t hard or compacted. You want a loose soil that can drain adequately. Mix in plenty of organic compost prior to planting to encourage good growth and set the plant up for success with the food it needs for fruiting.
Cover the soil with straw mulch to help keep the moisture in and to protect the root systems from heat and pests. Straw mulch is also a handy cushion as the fruit develops that can help fight fungal infections that would develop if the fruit was in contact with the bare soil and starved of airflow.
WATERING & FEEDING.
Assuming you have a good compost mix in the soil at planting, cucumbers don’t need much more feeding. You can give them a boost with some worm wee when planting, and again just as the first tiny fruit appear. But most of their nutrients will be pulled from the soil and too many additional nutrients just foster leaf growth, not fruit growth.
However, these plants love a drink, and you’ll need to keep an eye on their water intake. Existing sprinkler irrigation systems may work against you with cucumbers, as wet foliage and fruit can encourage fungal disease. If possible, switch them out for drip feeders positioned near the root system and under the mulch. This is your best chance of success.
A lack of water can also make the fruit dry up or develop a really bitter taste, so there’s a bit of a skill in keeping the balance right.
WHEN TO HARVEST.
Cucumbers generally take around 8-10 weeks to ripen, but different varieties will have different durations. It’s really a matter of personal choice when to harvest, and early picking when the fruit is small will give you gherkins, or wait the full duration for a more traditional cucumber size (around 20cm).
Avoid letting the fruit ripen too long on the vine, as it’s better to watch underripe fruit mature in your kitchen fruit bowl rather than have overripe fruit hanging on the vine weakening your overall crop.
For an earlier harvest and also to reduce the threat of insect damage to seedlings, you can grow seedlings indoors in individual pots (or trays with separate compartments) about a month before the planting window for your climate begins.
Your harvest will also require bees and other pollinators to do their work, so make sure you have plenty of companion flowering plants or produce to attract these critical critters to your patch. Alternatively you can manually pollinate by rubbing a male flower on the stem of a female flower.