Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Now that Your Hands are Dirty, on to Cucumbers

Your tomato transplants are in the soil and protected from high winds and strong sun by tall tin cans, shingles and newspaper, Kozy Coats or Walls of Water and there’s still room for more veggies in your garden. Now what? Well, cucumbers are another summer time favourite.

Again, the first thing to consider is how much space you have to grow a vine vegetable like cucumbers. They will ramble and cover up quite a patch of soil where you could be growing something else if your space is limited. Also, when you allow cukes to spread out on the ground, the fruit is 1) harder to pick since you have to bend over and 2) one side of it is pale green or yellowish because it doesn’t get any sunlight lying on the ground.

You can take two routes with cucumbers: start or purchase plants to transplant or direct seed into the garden.

When to plant or seed? Transplant or seed cucumbers outdoors after the last risk of frost. If you want a head start, use a Kozy Coat(KC)or Wall of Water and put the transplant or seeds inside it. The sun will warm the water in this apparatus, and the water will warm the soil, and so protect the plant or seeds from the cold. Once the plant is near the top, remove the KC or turn the top of the KC down—some water may spill, but that’s okay. If you choose the second route, use a give the vine something to climb on.

If you have a garden, work the soil with a roto-tiller, or hire someone to do it.
If you have a small space, say a raised bed or two that are no more than three feet wide by five feet long, by ten inches deep, grab a fork and start to dig. Remove large stones, of course, and break down large lumps of soil. Hit ‘em with the fork or a hoe until they are smaller or disintegrate.
Why so fussy? Well, initially, cucumbers have fine roots and they don’t transplant that easily, so give them every courtesy you can.

If you have a small patio or balcony, purchase a pot large enough so that a tomato cage, a small trellis, or three five-foot bamboo poles can be made to stand safely upright in it.
For potting soil, purchase a good triple mix: top soil or humus, peat moss, and manure.

For the balcony gardener, you just might get lucky and find a pot variety already growing at a garden centre. If you can afford it, go for it. If you can’t afford it, buy a smaller plant, an inexpensive pot and some soil.
As for variety, try the Burpless Bush Hybrid. It has small plants, and tasty cukes.
Personally, I would buy a pot large enough to hold a tomato cage and use it for supporting the cucumber vine, and then grow a variety called Cool Breeze.
This variety is self-pollinating: it has all female flowers so every bloom is a potential cucumber and you don’t need bees! The cucumbers are ready in approx. 45 days—
pick at 4-6 inches long—and are good for eating fresh or pickling.

For the gardener with more space:
Again, I recommend Cool Breeze for the same reasons. But I also like the English style cucumbers—those long ones you see in supermarkets. Two excellent varieties are Sweet Slice (60 days) and Sweeter Yet (45 days).

Water, fertilizer and shelter:
Water when needed, but underwater rather than over water, especially if you are growing cukes in pots. Remember it is easier to add a water than to get it out!

Fertilizer: I can’t say that I’ve ever need to fertilize my cuke plants, but for those in pots, it may well be necessary. Try a 15-15-15 type of water soluble fertilizer. Be careful not to over-fertilize.

Shelter: Since it is very windy most of the time where I live, I drape fabric row cover over my cucumbers. This does three things: stops the wind from beating the stuffings out of the leaves and whipping the vines into a knot, helps maintain warmth around the plant and, finally, acts as a protection from light frost.

Good luck and happy growing,

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