Vegetable gardening has always been very popular, but lately there has been an increase in the number of people planting vegetables.
The No. 1 vegetable people plant is the tomato. But there are other vegetables that are easy to grow and will provide you with an abundant yield.
Peppers and squash are two such vegetables, but one of my family's favorites is the cucumber. Most gardeners think a large garden space is needed to grow cucumbers, but they can be grown in a small garden area or in containers.
There are two types of cucumbers: those for fresh slicing and those for pickling. The cucumber ranges in size from the small gherkin type to the long, thin slicing variety. Many varieties are available.
Cucumbers are a subtropical crop, requiring long, warm days, plenty of sunshine and adequate moisture. Our climate is well-suited for growing cucumbers and gardeners can enjoy a harvest all summer long. Once the first planting of cucumbers has finished producing, a second planting will allow harvesting into the fall.
Cucumbers thrive best at relatively high temperatures, between 75 to 85 degrees. Because they are a subtropical plant, they do not tolerate frost. And because they are a quick-growing crop, they must be well-supplied with moisture and plant nutrients throughout the growing season. Water is especially critical for cucumbers during the fruiting stage.
Cucumbers are in the cucurbit family, with vines that bear two kinds of flowers: pistillate (female) and staminate (male). The first flowers are staminate. All of the circuits, squash, watermelon and cantaloupe, will produce more male flowers before they start producing female flowers.
I get numerous calls each year asking why squash or cucumbers are producing flowers but no fruit. It's important to look at the flower to see if it is male or female. The female flower will have a small cucumber or squash behind the flower. The male flowers have just the flower.
Recently, gynoecious plants (those bearing female flowers only or mostly female) have been introduced. These varieties tend to bear fruit earlier and have a heavier yield because of the increased number of female flowers.
Cucurbits require pollination from bees in order to have fruit. One of the problems with cucumbers and other cucurbits is misshaped fruit, and this usually is caused by incomplete pollination. More bees can be attracted to gardens by planting flowers around them and by reducing the amount of pesticides used while the plants are blooming.
Cucumbers require moderate amounts of fertilizer. A soil test is always the best method for determining the fertilization needs of the crop. If a recent soil test has not been taken, a pre-plant application of 5-10-10 fertilizer at the rate of 3 pounds per 100 square feet can be helpful. This initial pre-plant application will normally supply all of the phosphorus and potash needed by most garden vegetables.
Then, cucumbers can be side-dressed with an additional application of nitrogen fertilizer one week after blooming begins and again three weeks later, using 11/2 ounces of 33-0-0 per 10 feet of row. This needs to be applied along one side of the row and about 4 to 6 inches from the plants, depending on their size. The nutrient requirements of cucumbers also can be met by using organic fertilizers.
Cucumbers have a shallow root system and can suffer when no irrigation is provided during droughts. Enough water should be applied to moisten the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. The critical period for moisture is during fruit set and fruit development. If cucumbers have a bitter, metallic taste, this is due to a lack of moisture in the fruit and can be overcome by watering the cucumbers in the morning and picking the fruit in the afternoon.
If plants are watered in the afternoon, it should be finished in time for the foliage of the plants to dry before night. Mulching can help provide uniform moisture, conserve water and reduce weeds. Organic materials are useful in the summer to keep the fruit clean in non-trellised plantings.
Most varieties of cucumber vines spread from row to row, but the plants can be trained to grow on a trellis or fence along the edge of the garden. This will keep the plants from taking over the garden and also lift the fruit off the soil. Some gardeners use tomato cages for cucumbers.
A bountiful number of cucumbers can be harvested from a small space. With cucumbers: the more you pick, the more the plant produces.
Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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