- While made up of 90 to 95 percent water, cucumbers still provide a host of valuable nutrients, including vitamins A, B5, C and K, manganese, potassium, magnesium, molybdenum, copper, silica and fiber
- Technically, cucumbers are a fruit. Three main categories of cucumbers are: slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers and English or gourmet cucumber, a thinner version with very small seeds
- Most grow on trailing vines, although you can also find bush varieties suitable for container gardens, such as Hybrid, Salad, Picklebush and Arkansas Little Leaf, the latter of which will produce fruit without pollination
Cucumbers are one of my most highly recommended vegetables, and if you have a garden, you can easily grow them at home.1,2,3 Aside from being able to control pesticide and fertilizer use, you’ll also avoid the wax applied to many commercially sold cucumbers. There are dozens of varieties that thrive in both cool and warm climates, although they can be a challenge to grow if temperatures are consistently in the mid-90s.
While made up of 90 to 95 percent water, cucumbers still manage to provide a host of valuable nutrients, including vitamins A, B5, C and K, along with manganese, potassium, magnesium, molybdenum, copper, silica and fiber. Cucumbers also contain lignans that bind with estrogen-related bacteria in the digestive tract, contributing to a reduced risk of several cancers, including breast, uterus, ovarian and prostate cancer.4
Other phytonutrients called cucurbitacins — part of a larger group known as triterpenes, and the part of the cucumber that gives it a bitter taste — also inhibit cancer cell development. Preliminary findings also suggest cucumbers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.5
In traditional medicine, cucumbers are used to treat headaches. The seeds are diuretic, and the juice — thanks to caffeic acid and vitamin C — can be used as an acne treatment and a soothing remedy for tired, puffy eyes.
Technically, cucumbers are a fruit, related to both the melon and squash families. The three main categories of cucumbers you can choose from are:
•Slicing cucumbers: thick-skinned and generally larger, growing to be 6 to 8 inches long
•Pickling cucumbers: thin-skinned and smaller, reaching 3 to 4 inches in length
•English or gourmet cucumber, also known as “burpless:” a longer, thinner version with very small seeds
Some varieties of cucumbers will be more bitter than others. Beit Alpha, Lemon Cuke, Tendergreen burpless and White Wonder are among the sweetest. You can find a listing of other popular varieties on Rodale Organic Life’s website.6 As a general rule, cucumbers need quite a bit of garden space, as they grow on trailing vines. However, there are also bushy varieties that only need minor staking, making them suitable for container gardens.
Popular bush varieties include Hybrid, Salad, Picklebush and Arkansas Little Leaf, the latter of which will produce fruit without pollination, making it an ideal choice for apartment dwellers and small container gardens. To optimize your container-grown cucumber, plant it in equal parts of potting soil, compost, perlite and peat moss, and use a container that is at least 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep.
The plants also need five to nine hours of full sun. The greater the sun exposure, the more productive the plant will be. An east-west directed trellis will optimize light exposure. That said, if temperatures are consistently in the mid-90s, provide the plants with filtered afternoon shade to avoid overheating.
Planting and growing cucumbers
Depending on the variety, your cucumbers will be ready for harvest in 50 to 105 days. For earlier harvest, start the plants indoors, using a grow light, approximately four weeks before your last spring frost date. They’re fast growers, though, so most gardeners will simply plant from seed directly in the garden.
For a late summer/early fall harvest, sow a second batch four to five weeks after the first. Cucumber plants are highly vulnerable to frost, so avoid planting seeds or seedlings in your garden until all danger of frost have passed, and the average soil temperature is at least 50 degrees F.
1.Plant seeds7 in rows, about one-half inch to 1 inch deep, anywhere from 1 to 6 inches apart. The plant will grow best in loose, well-draining soil. Mix in ample amounts of compost to encourage growth. Ideal pH is between 6 and 7.
2.Ideally, water heavily in the morning and allow it to lightly dry out to a depth of about 3 inches before soaking it again. This will help prevent stem rot and powdery mildew, as the plant has a shallow root system.
Allowing the plant to dry out too much can make the fruit bitter, however. A layer of mulch will help maintain the moisture balance. Adequate moisture is particularly important during flowering and fruiting. Sandier soils will require more frequent watering.
3.Once the plants are about 4 inches tall, thin the rows so the plants are spaced about 12 to 24 inches apart, depending on the variety.
4.Four weeks after planting, side-dress with compost, aged manure or 1 tablespoon of 10-7-7 organic fertilizer. A 7-5-5 or 6-3-3 balance can also be used, just make sure it has a slightly higher nitrogen ratio to stimulate leaf growth and fruiting.
That said, excessive nitrogen (and/or low boron or inadequate pollination) will result in cucumbers with hollow centers — a sign of excessively rapid growth, preventing the fruit from forming properly.
5.As the plant grows, train it upward on your trellis. Alternatively, grow them in a large pot, whiskey barrel or raised bed, where it can sprawl over the sides. Growing them vertically will produce straighter fruit, however, and protect the fruit from pests and rot.