Many mistakenly assume that cucumbers are a vegetable. Actually, they are fruit! If you’ve had a go at growing some different veg and are looking for something new try to, grow cucumbers.
Cucumbers largely contain water, around 95% but are high in many beneficial nutrients and antioxidant that may help treat and even prevent some conditions. Low in calories and high in soluble fibre, eating cucumbers promotes hydration and aid weight loss.
What makes cucumber fantastic veg to grow is they don’t need much space to blossom. You can easily grow cucumbers in pots, growing bags or directly into the ground.
Interesting cucumbers facts!
Cucumber can cure bad breath. Simply take a slice and pressed to the roof of your mouth for 30 seconds with your tongue. This allows the phytochemicals to kill problematic bacteria.
Cucumber slices can be rubbed on noisy hinges to lubricate them!
The waxy coating of a cucumber can remove ink on a page. Rub the skin over the writing and it will slowly be removed.
The heaviest cucumber, according to the Guinness World Records, weighed 12.9 kg and was grown by David Thomas. It was displayed at the Malvern Autumn Show in September 2015.
China produces 76% of cucumber and gherkin production in the world.
A raw cucumber is 95% water.
If you’re growing cucumbers in a greenhouse, then you’ll want to plant them in pots of free-draining, seed sowing compost. This will provide all the nutrients they need to start growing and will require watering from time to time.
Outdoors, you’ll want to find a plot that is warm but out of direct sunlight. Cucumber seedlings can be prone to scorching, so you’ll want to be careful when you place them in the plot.
A week or so before planting seeds outdoor or transferring seedlings, you’ll want to cover the plot with compost or manure and allow it to rot into the ground. Doing so will provide the ideal conditions for your cucumber plants to grow and develop.
There are plenty of cucumber varieties and the RHS recommends the following.
Dark-ribbed, well-shaped fruits for growing indoors. You’ll want to remove any male flowers.
Cucumber with dark fruit for growing indoors. You’ll want to remove any male flowers.
Very high yield of short fruits on strong plants best suited to indoor use. You’ll want to remove any male flowers.
Ridge cucumber with trailing habit; yields well outdoors. Good yield of short, attractive, dark fruits. Leave the male flowers.
‘Tokyo Slicer’ AGM
High yielding, outdoor variety with long smooth fruits. Leave the male flowers.
In the greenhouse
If you have a heated greenhouse, then you can start sowing seeds from mid-February to mid-March. Otherwise, you’ll have to start in April. Sow seeds on their side and in 1 cm deep in pots. Cover the seeds with compost and then water.
By late May or early June, the conditions outdoors will be ideal for planting seeds. Dig a trench around 2 cm deep and sow seeds. Cover with soil and water. Next, you can place a fleece or glass jars over the seeds to keep them at the correct temperature.
You could also buy young plants from a local garden centre and plant them in spring.
How to nurture cucumbers
Transfer young plants to 25 cm pots filled with potting compost in late March (heated greenhouse), late May (unheated greenhouse). You’ll want to keep the compost moist. You can use growing-bags, however, plants will need more care and watering.
Using a cane, train the main stem up it vertically and pinch out the growing point when it touches the roof. Pinch out the tips of sideshoots two leaves beyond a female flower (recognisable by tiny fruits behind flower).
Once any flowerless sideshoots reach 60 cm long, then you’ll also want to pinch out the tips. You should keep the humidity high by watering the floor and feed every 10-14 days with a balanced liquid fertiliser.
After planting cover with compost and general-purpose fertiliser. When the plants have developed seven leaves, then pinch out the growing tip.
You can leave the developing sideshoots to trail over the ground or trained up stout netting. Pinch out the tips of flowerless sideshoots after seven leaves.
Don’t remove the male flowers. You’ll want to keep the soil constantly moist by watering around the plants but not over them.
Depending on where you’re growing cucumber will impact how much crop you’ll end with. If you’re growing outdoors, typically the last crop can be harvested by mid-September. However, if you’re growing cucumbers indoors, you’ll find that they continue to produce fruit into mid-October.
Ideally, you’d harvest cucumbers while they’re still small and tender. Using a sharp knife or pruners, cut them off the plants. It’s best to harvest in the morning while it’s still cool. Pick often to encourage more fruits to grow, thus extending the harvest.
How to store fresh cucumbers
You can store fresh cucumbers in the crisper draw, however, this isn’t the best option. According to research cited by Root Simple, cucumbers should be stored at room temperature.
Storing them in a fridge makes them prone to “chilling injuries” such as water-soaked areas, pitting, and accelerated decay. So if you want to store cucumbers in the fridge, it’s best to consume within a few days and keep them towards the front of the draw (as this will be slightly warmer).
You can freeze cucumbers but the texture will be different when they’re thawed. Start by cutting the cucumbers into slices and place them on a baking tray lined with grease-proof paper. Put the tray into the freezer for 2 hours and then transfer the slices to a ziplock bag and freeze them.
When you want to use them, remove the slices you intend to use and place in water to thaw. You could, of course, pickle them instead but that’s a whole different area!
Common pests and problems
Part of growing any vegetable is having to manage pests and disease. Sadly, cucumbers are no different.
Slugs and snails
These are the most common pests you’ll have to deal with. You’ll notice their slime trails on the soil and leaves! Thankfully, you can easily control slugs and snails by numerous methods including sawdust, eggshell barriers and copper tape.
Aphids and whiteflies
Many insects see your cucumbers as a buffet waiting to happen! Most of these pests can be easily dealt with insecticidal soap or pesticides outdoors and sticky traps in the greenhouse.
This appears as a white powdery deposit over the leaf surface. The result is leaves become stunted and shrivel. You will need to keep the soil moist and ensure you’re growing in a fairly cool location.
Cucumber mosaic virus
Plants and leaves are stunted and deformed, and leaves show distinctive yellow mosaic patterning. Flowering is reduced or non-existent. Any fruit that appears are small, pitted, hard and inedible.
As this disease is spread from plant to plant by sap-sucking aphids, you’ll need to remove infected plants. Ensure you wash your hand touching infected plants to avoid contaminating healthy ones.