Do you like pickles? Then find out all about growing gherkins from seed right here in the UK.
Last year, we were inundated with cucumbers. So we had a lot of salad and I pickled a load as well. And that got me thinking.
Can you grow gherkins in the UK? After all, they are just smaller cucumbers. I love pickled gherkins, so I looked into it.
The good news is that you can and in this guide I will teach you how to grow gherkins from seeds in the UK.
What Are Gherkins?
Before we look at growing gherkins from seed, let’s answer the question: what are gherkins?
They are basically just cucumbers. But they are smaller and can be harvested when still quite small to be pickled.
Most varieties can be used to eat fresh or be pickled. It all depends on how small you pick them.
If you leave them to grow bigger, they will still be smaller than normal cucumbers, more like baby cucumbers.
But unlike normal cucumber varieties, you can also pick them while they are still small, around 2.5cm to 3cm (around 1in), and then pickle them.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty of growing gherkins from seed, let’s talk varieties.
There are different varieties that you can grow, some of them need heat, like most cucumbers, and are therefore better grown in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
Because I grow loads in my polytunnel, space is limited, so I decided to go for a variety that can be grown outside.
Venlo Pickling Gherkin
I can highly recommend this outdoor variety, as it’s a heavy cropper and is easy to grow.
You can either pick the gherkins when they are still small to pickle them or let them grow bigger to use them fresh in salads.
The gherkins taste great once pickled and there were so many that we will have pickled gherkins all winter. I love it!
It’s a ridge cucumber, which means that it will need support to grow. But more about this later.
Growing Gherkins From Seed In The UK
Now that we have talked about what variety we recommend, let’s talk about growing gherkins from seed.
If you have grown cucumbers before, then there won’t be much new information for you here, because gherkins are, after all, cucumbers.
You start your gherkins off indoors in April. I was an eager beaver, so started mine at the start of April.
Fill a small pot with good-quality potting compost. Then sow one seed about 13mm (1/2in) deep.
Top Tip: Sow the gherkin seed on its side. This prevents it from rotting and increases the chance of germination.
Basically, the same as with any cucumber seed.
Then give it a good water to make sure the compost is moist all over. I water the compost before I sow the seeds, especially with smaller seeds, to prevent the seeds from moving to the edge of the pot.
Place the pot in a propagator or on a sunny windowsill. Propagators are a great way to give your seeds the right conditions to germinate successfully and quickly.
These gherkins seeds need a temperature of between 15°C and 20°C (60°F and 68°F) to germinate. Germination time is between 5 and 10 days.
Keep the compost moist but not wet. If the compost is too wet, the seed will rot, and you won’t have any gherkins this year.
Equally, if the compost dries out the seed won’t germinate. So it’s important to check on your seeds regularly. It’s also exciting, because they might germinate any day.
When the seeds have germinated and the first leaves have come through fully, remove the pot from the propagator. This will ensure that the seedling won’t get damaged.
Transplanting Your Gherkin Seedlings
Let’s move on to the next step in our guide about growing gherkins from seed.
Once the gherkin seedling has two true leaves, that is the second pair of leaves that grows, transplant it into a bigger pot.
Cucumber seedlings can be a bit sensitive to being transplanted, so be careful.
Top Tip: Water your seedling before transplanting. This will firm up the compost, so that the roots don’t get disturbed too much during the process.
Keep transplanting your seedlings as they grow until you are ready to plant them out. Water them regularly.
I like to feed them with homemade liquid fertiliser after repotting them for the first time to encourage healthy growth.
Planting Your Gherkin Plants Out
When there is no more risk of frost, which is normally in June, you can plant your gherkin plant out into your vegetable bed. You want a sunny spot that is sheltered from wind.
Gherkins, like all cucumbers, are thirsty and hungry plants. So make sure you have prepared the bed accordingly, either by digging in well-rotted organic matter in spring.
Or by adding a 5cm (2in) layer of compost or manure to the bed in autumn or spring. This will ensure there are enough nutrients in the soil for your gherkin plants to thrive.
Supporting Your Gherkin Plant
This is an important step in our guide about growing gherkins from seed, so don’t skip it.
Because this gherkin variety is a ridge variety, it will grow upwards and needs support.
I have tried various supporting methods over the years and the most reliable is the wigwam method.
All you need is three long wooden canes and a bit of string. Once you have planted the gherkin plant in its spot, pace the three canes around it at an angle, so they come together at the top.
It should look like a wigwam. Tie the cones together with the string. The gherkin plant will send out tendrils, which will wrap around the canes.
This will give the plant stability and keep it upright. I sometimes give the tendrils a helping hand by wrapping them around a cane, but generally they are quite good at finding the support they need.
Caring For Your Gherkin Plant
Our guide about growing gherkins from seed in the UK wouldn’t be complete without telling you how to care for your gherkin plants.
The good news is that this gherkin variety doesn’t need much maintenance, so is really easy to grow.
Cucumbers are thirsty plants, so water them regularly, especially during dry periods.
When it gets really hot, and we seem to have heatwaves more often nowadays, I water them twice, once in the morning and once in the evening.
But be careful not to overwater them, as this will cause them to rot, like with most plants. It’s a balance that needs to be struck here.
Like other cucumbers, the gherkin plant will grow male and female flowers. With some varieties you have to pick off the male flowers to prevent the fruits from becoming bitter.
Luckily, the Venlo Pickling Gherking is not one of them. So just let it do its thing.
Once your gherkin plant starts to flower, feed it with a liquid feed high in potash. This will increase your yield.
To make sure the plant focuses on growing tasty fruit, pinch out the top of the gherkin plant once it has reached a good height, when it has grown about seven leaves.
It’s the same concept as with tomatoes, where you pinch out the tops once the plants have reached a good height.
The gherkin plant will also send out side shoots. You can leave them, but make sure you pinch out the tops of these too to stop them from growing and growing.
As the plant grows, the lower leaves will start to turn yellow. That’s normal, as it concentrates on new growth. Just remove them.
Now we get to the best part of growing gherkins from seed, harvesting the fruit of your labour.
Harvesting can start as soon as July right through to September.
And once the plant has started to fruit, you have a lot to do, because these little gherkins grow quickly.
For pickling, you can pick them while they are still small, around 3cm (1in). I tried to do that, but they grew so quickly that I didn’t often manage it.
But even if they are a bit bigger, they are still great for pickling. If you want them for salads, just leave them to grow thicker and longer.
Although they won’t grow as long as normal cucumbers. But they are the ideal size for a salad for two.
You want to make sure to continuously harvest your gherkins, to ensure the plant keeps growing new ones.
But what are you going to do with so many gherkins? Pickle them, of course. You can pickle them whole, or slice them. That’s what I do, because then they can be used on burgers and hot dogs.
Pickled gherkins don’t just taste great, they will also last for up to a year, which means you can enjoy your homegrown gherkins throughout the winter.
Pests And Diseases That Affect Gherkin Plants
Growing gherkins from seed successfully is only possible if you are aware of the pests and diseases that can attack your gherkin plants.
So we had to include a section about this in our handy guide for you.
There aren’t many diseases that affect cucumbers and therefore gherkins, but there are two you should be aware of.
Powdery mildew is one of them. This fungal disease affects the leaves and will coat them with a white powdery mould.
It strikes when cucumber plants are under-watered. So the best way to keep this disease at bay is by watering your gherkin plants regularly.
If you spot any affected leaves, remove them and dispose of the leaves in your garden waste bin; not on your compost heap.
Another disease is the cucumber mosaic virus. It’s spread by aphids, who transmit it via their saliva when they suck the sap of the plant.
The tell-tale sign of an infection is a yellow mosaic pattern on the leaves. Once a gherkin or cucumber plant is infected, there is nothing you can do.
The virus will stop the plant from developing as many flowers and fruits, so it will reduce the yield you can get.
You can only prevent your gherkin plants from catching this virus by preventing aphids from sucking its sap.
If your plant has caught the disease, harvest all the remaining gherkins and dispose of the plant in your garden waste bin.
One pest that likes gherkin plants are aphids. These little insects like to drink the sap from the pants stems and leaves.
In small numbers, they won’t do any harm to your plants, so tolerate them whenever possible. Of course, they can transmit the cucumber mosaic virus.
An aphid infestation can destroy a plant, especially a young plant. So keep an eye out for aphids on your gherkin plants.
The best way to keep aphids in check is by having their natural enemies in your garden. Ladybirds, lacewings, earwigs and ground beetles love aphids.
Encourage them into your garden, and you won’t have big problems with these pesky pests. Encouraging beneficial insects to your garden is the best way to keep pest numbers down.
But there are some other things you can do:
- Use companion planting to keep them away from your gherkins. Planting garlic, onions, chives, marigolds or lavender near your gherkin plant will keep aphids away.
- If you spot any aphids, remove them with your hands, if you don’t mind that kind of thing.
- You can buy insecticidal soap to wash your plants if they have too many aphids to pick them off by hand.
- Pure organic cold pressed neem oil concentrate unrefined one 1000ml bottle
- Gentle biodegradable liquid soap derived from plant oils one 1000ml bottle
- Combine together with water to form a neem spray or drench
We have planted a wild flower meadow in our garden, and since then we haven’t had any problems with aphids or other pests. They are around, but they don’t do any harm to our veggies.
Red spider mites also like the sap of cucumber plants. They get their name from their colour and their spider-like appearance. But they aren’t spiders.
They love warm, dry conditions. They can be a problem in greenhouses or polytunnels or outside if we have a prolonged period of hot, dry weather.
By the way, not all red spider mites are red; some are yellowish green or even brown. But we see the red ones most, as they stand out.
To prevent them from becoming a problem:
- Keep your gherkins plants well watered, especially during hot and dry periods.
- Plant onions, chives, garlic or dill with your gherkin plant to repel the little mites.
- Encourage beneficial insects, like ladybirds and lacewings, to your garden.
Slugs and snails like most plants, so they won’t skip your gherkin plants. While the plants are young, these slimy creatures can cause harm.
But it’s easy to protect your young plants from them. And once you have strong healthy plants, slugs and snails won’t cause much harm.
All of my veggie plants have been nibbled at by them, but that doesn’t stop them from growing and producing tasty fruits.
Slugs and snails are important for our ecosystem, so it’s important that we tolerate them in our garden.
Seedlings are most vulnerable, so it’s important to protect them. If you sow your gherkin seeds indoors and only plant them out when the risk of frost has gone, they will be big enough not to be affected too much.
There are some plants that slugs and snails don’t like, such as rosemary and lavender. If you plant these around your vegetable beds, you can keep them out.
And they will attract beneficial insects too, so it’s a win-win situation.
Now that you know how easy growing gherkins from seed is in the UK, why not give it a go? Happy Growing!