If you like to fill shelves with jars of garden vegetables for winter use, plant cucumbers. Six to twelve vines will keep you busy pickling for several weeks. The vines of most varieties will spread over 6 feet before the plants are worn out from heavy bearing. Standard vining cucumbers are not for the small garden unless you can train them up supports.
Each cucumber vine bears both male and female flowers; female blossoms are recognizable by the swollen ovary just behind the flower. Pollen is transferred from male flowers by insects and wind. Certain hybrids have been selected for their high percentage of female flowers; seedsmen will usually mix in a few seeds of a male pollinator variety to insure fruiting. Fruits won’t set without pollination; poorly formed fruits are usually caused by nutritional problems, too little or too much water, or hot weather.
Recommended varieties. Slicing varieties grow 6 to 9 inches in length. Young fruits can be pickled whole or the mature cucumbers sliced crosswise or into sticks for ease of packing into jars. ‘Burpee Hybrid’, ‘Palomar’, and ‘Victory’ are disease resistant. ‘Burpless’ and ‘Armenian’, oriental types, are reputedly easy to digest. Both have long, ribbed fruit; ‘Armenian’ is light green.
Pickling varieties have short, blocky fruits which are slightly more prolific than the slicers and are more convenient for making whole pickles. ‘Bravo’ and ‘Cherokee’ hybrids are bred for the Southeast. ‘Crispy’ and ‘Spartan Valor’ hybrids are disease resistant. ‘Lemon’ has round, creamy yellow fruits and a unique flavor.
The new compact hybrids for small gardens, hanging baskets, and container growing include ‘Little Minnie’, ‘Tiny Dill’, and the early, disease-resistant ‘Patio Pick’.
How to plant. Cucumbers are definitely a warm-weather vegetable. The seeds need warm soil to sprout, and the plants need warm weather to help pollination. (Pollination can be inhibited, though, by extreme dryness combined with heat.)
Plant the seeds 1 inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart in a row and later thin to 12 inches apart. Closer spacing can increase yields, especially if you create a rich, fast- draining soil by incorporating lots of organic matter and if you mulch under the vines with straw.
If you expect some cool spells during the growing season, plant the seeds along fences where reflected heat will encourage faster growth and better fruiting. You can also start seeds indoors in peat-pots two to three weeks before the usual date of the last spring frost.
Care. Cucumbers need lots of water. Sprinkling is not recommended for most gardens because it encourages mildew. Furrow irrigation works best but vines can clog the furrows. Train all the vines in one direction to keep the irrigation furrow open. In small gardens, train the vines up 3 to 5-foot-high vertical or slanted frames covered with chicken wire or strung with stout twine. Cucumber vines don’t cling; tie them up every foot or so. Pinch out the tips of rambling vines; this will cause more branches to form. Feed every three to four weeks