The cucumber is a member of the gourd family and is native to India. Cucumbers are technically fruits but are eaten as vegetables. Cucumber plants were very popular in ancient times and spread quickly via trade to most continents, where they are still grown today.
Cucumbers come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Slicing, pickling, and seedless are the three main varieties of cucumber. Cucumber plants have many additional cultivars. Cultivars are plants that have been cultivated over time to produce a desired effect or enhance a particular aspect of the plant. Cucumber plants are usually a vine, but some varieties are bushy. Below we will look at the types of cucumbers and how best to grow and care for them.
Cucumbers and Their Main Uses
Cucumbers are of the Cucurbitaceae family, Cucumis genus, and C. sativus species. Cucumber plants generally need warm weather and lots of water, as they are traditionally from a tropical climate. They are generally easy to grow if the above conditions can be met. Cucumbers can be grown indoors if you live in colder regions. Cucumbers are usually served raw, and are popular in salads. Asian cultures eat them pickled or cooked in curries.
Main Cucumber Varieties
Slicing cucumbers are one of the more common varieties. They are eaten unripe, while still green. When ripe, they turn yellow and are bitter tasting. In the U.S., slicing cucumbers are cultivated to have thicker, smooth skin so that they ship well. In Europe, they are smaller and have a thinner skin.
Pickling cucumbers are grown specifically to make pickles. Even though all cucumber varieties can be pickled, pickling cucumbers are shorter, thicker and have textured skin. They have a firm texture ensuring crispness when pickled. They are pickled in vinegar and brine with spices.
Seedless or Burpless
Seedless or burpless cucumbers are sweeter, have a thinner skin and are often grown in greenhouses. These are usually the easiest to digest and have a pleasant taste.
There are many other cucumber varieties including Persian, East Asian and Lemon. A close relative to the common cucumber is the Armenian cucumber. However, they actually a muskmelon.
How to Grow Cucumbers in Your Garden
Cucumber plants can be grown indoors in pots, but are generally grown outdoors. As most cucumber plants are vines, trellises are handy and save space in your garden.
Plants need to be placed where they will receive full sun. Soil needs a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Adding compost or manure to the soil will balance the pH levels and provide additional food for the cucumber plant.
Cucumbers should be planted in the ground at least two weeks after the last frost. The soil needs to be close to seventy degrees for them to germinate. You can start the plants indoors if it is too cold and transplant them outside when the ground warms up.
Cucumber plants should be planted 12 inches apart and seeds 10 inches apart. If using seeds, you will need to thin the plants when they start to grow.
Cucumber plants will need to be fed fertilizer every few weeks.
Cucumbers also do best when watered evenly. Both a soaker hose or drip irrigation works well. Otherwise, water about one inch a week.
Once the plants are in the ground, other than watering and feeding, they need very little maintenance. It is common to plant a second round once the weather has warmed up.
Other Tips for Planting Cucumber Plants
Often the first round of flowers on the vine is all male and does not produce fruit. The second round of flowering will contain male and female flowers, resulting in fruit.
- Several bug types are attracted to cucumbers, including aphids, squash bugs and cucumber beetles.
- Powdery mildew can attack cucumber plants as well. A fungicide should be used right away.
- If the weather is too warm, or the cucumber plants insufficiently watered, the cucumbers can be bitter.
- Putting down mulch keeps the fruit clean and maintains water retention.
Cucumbers are relatively easy to grow, requiring little maintenance other than watering and feeding. They are a great summer vegetable since they are cooling and contain large amounts of water and minerals. If you choose a sunny spot for your cucumber plants and keep the bugs at bay, you should be eating cucumbers in 65-105 days.
Image from pixabay.com.