Cucumbers are by far the most difficult vegetable to grow in our climate. Vegetable gardening is all about the challenge and getting a good crop of cucumbers really does show how good of a gardener you are. This might make you wonder why grow cucumbers in the vegetable garden at all? Well the taste, texture and crunch of fresh cucumbers is like nothing you can ever buy in the supermarket.
It is possible to get a brilliant crop of cucumbers with some attention, by providing enough heat and preventing any sort of drafts.
In this article you’ll see how I manage to get a incredible crop of cucumbers in an unheated greenhouse and good crops outside (even given our unpredictable summers).
Choosing & Sowing Your Cucumbers
Choosing the right variety is the first important step when growing cucumbers. Over the years I have found that varieties that produce mini 6” (15cm) cucumbers are most successful in the greenhouse. For outside crops the old heritage varieties seem to be hardiest and more reliable in a bad season.
It doesn’t matter if you intend to grow your cucumbers indoors or outside, they will first need to be started in a greenhouse as they need to be indoors until well after the last frost.
Cucumber seeds are large and very easy to germinate. Sowing should begin in March for indoor crops or April for outdoor growing. The seeds should be quite quick to germinate but starting in a heated propagator gives the plants the very best start possible.
A 4 inch (10cm) pot is the ideal place to begin the seeds but a module tray is also acceptable if you intend to grow a larger number of plants. The seeds should be sown in a damp compost about 1cm below the surface. Planting the seed on it’s side is thought to prevent the seed rotting and increases germination rates.
It is often more economical to buy cucumber plug plants as they are often cheaper and easier to grow than seeds.
Caring For The Plants
Cucumbers are tough to care for, after germination they become susceptible to over-watering, drafts and cold weather.
Cucumbers should be regularly watered but only lightly to prevent the base of the plant rotting. With cucumbers watering is a tough balance, under-watering leads to very weak plants but over-watering leads to rot. Monitor your watering carefully, ideally watering with a small watering can rather than hose pipe or greenhouse sprinklers.
Drafts are probably the biggest killer of cucumber seedlings, the easiest way to overcome this is to grow the cucumber in a cloche inside the greenhouse. A cloche gives extra heat but also prevents any sort of drafts or cold air getting to the delicate plants.
Once the plants get to be 4-6 inches tall they can be transplanted to their final locations. Indoors plant in a pot of good quality (ideally home made) compost in a pot 12 inches wide and at least 12 inches deep, this can be done before the last frost. If you are transplanting outside you’ll need to wait until at least 1 week after your last frost date to begin hardening them off to transplant into the garden.
Depending on the variety a cane or trellis might be required shortly after transplanting.
Once transplanted into their final positions cucumbers will begin growing VERY quickly (like courgettes which are in the same family). You can often see flowers on the plants just a week after transplanting and be picking your first cucumbers 2 weeks after that.
This quick growth means cucumbers need fertilising to keep up this level of growth. A good general purpose fertiliser, seaweed feed or home made feed (compost or comfrey tea) fed every 10 days will help support the plant.
Well grown cucumbers crop heavily and quickly, if growing a mini cucumber variety you can expect to harvest a cucumber every other day in the peak of the growing season. Harvesting these cucumbers is simple, cut the cucumber from the plant with a sharp knife or scissors, do not pull or twist from the plant.
Stems that are growing cucumbers may require extra support.
It’s common that the lower leaves of the cucumber plant will begin to turn yellow and shrivel up in the middle of the season, this is to be expected and just allows the plant to focus on producing new leaves and cucumbers. These yellow leaves can be removed with secateurs once they have died.
Cucumber plants will continue to keep up the strong growth in August and September but will slow down once the weather cools and will usually die after the first frost of the winter.