Article by: Nadia Hassani  |  Picture by: Ted Rosen
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Whether you are growing cucumbers for salad or pickling, there are many varieties including bush-type and vine-type. This article tells you which type of cucumber to select, and how to plant, care and harvest them.

Growing cucumbers at a glance
Cucumbers need dry, hot summer weather. They require a sunny location, with well-drained rich soil, moderate to high in organic matter (see also Soil).

The two main types of cucumbers are slicer/salad cucumbers and pickle cucumbers. Depending on the variety, the days to maturity range from 50 to 70 days. Cucumbers come in bush-type and vine-type varieties. Bush-types are suitable for container growing and smaller gardens. Vine-type varieties spread 2 to 3 metres in each direction but can be trellised to save space.

One to two cucumber plants at a time are sufficient for a family of four. Planting the same number of plants again in mid-summer will provide a constant supply of cucumbers all summer.

Not every flower produces a cucumber, only the female flowers do. Usually the first 10 to 20 flowers on a plant are male. To produce fruit, pollination from male to female flowers is required. However, there are newer seedless hybrids with only female flowers, where no pollinator is needed. Rainy weather, when bees are inactive, leads to poor pollination and will decrease your harvest.

As a member of the squash / melon family, cucumbers should not be grown where melon, pumpkin, summer squash, watermelon, winter squash or courgette were grown the year before.

Plants or seeds?
Growing cucumbers from purchased seedlings is the easiest route to take. If you want a special variety, or if you want to grow consecutive crops, and seedlings are not commercially available later in the summer, you can start your cucumbers from seed.

Sow cucumber seeds at a depth twice their diameter. Use peat pots so you can plant the seedling directly in the garden or container without disturbing the roots, which are very tender.

Start the seeds 3 to 4 weeks prior to planting time, which should be at a time when there is no further danger of frost. Make sure not to start the seeds too early, as cucumber seedlings grow fast and will get leggy – long, weak stems with only few leaves. To speed up the process of warming up the soil, cover it with black plastic.

For details about seed starting, and to find out how to calculate seeding time, see here.
Cucumbers all summer long
If picked regularly cucumbers will produce for more than six weeks. For better-tasting cucumbers plant a second crop in mid-summer and you can harvest from the second planting plants until the onset of cool weather.
Caring for cucumbers
1. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and mulch around the plant to retain moisture. Do not let the roots dry out.

When the plant is small, tie it to a trellis or fence with soft string. As the plant grows bigger, it will cling to the trellis with its coiling tendrils.

Growing vine-type cucumbers on a trellis or fence has several advantages. It keeps the vines off the ground, provides good air circulation, vines don't need to be moved for weeding, allows easier access to the fruit, and you won't step on the vines during weeding or harvest.

Add a balanced fertiliser (equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) one week after blossom begins, and again 3 weeks later.

Avoid working in the vines when they are wet, as this might spread plant disease.
Growing cucumbers in containers
Bush or dwarf-vined cucumber varieties are suitable for containers (see also container gardening). Just like cucumbers, plant a second crop instead of picking from the same cucumber plant all season.
2. When the vines are about 3 metres long, cut the vine at the fuzzy tuft at the end of each vine. This is done so the plant can concentrate its energy on developing the flowers and small cucumbers that are already there, and will not form any additional flowers.
Good and bad companions for cucumbers
Beans, cabbage, sweetcorn, lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, onions, peas and radishes are good companions for cucumbers. As bees are crucial for cucumber pollination, non-aromatic herbs that attract bees, such as borage, as well as marigold and nasturtiums are excellent neighbours. Avoid planting cucumbers next to potatoes or herbs with a strong scent, such as sage.
Harvesting cucumbers
The seed packet or the label on the seedling container will provide information about at what size to pick. Cucumbers should be picked before they begin to turn yellow. Even if only one cucumber is not picked and is allowed to turn yellow, the whole plant will stop producing - making regular harvesting crucial.

To harvest, use a knife or pruner to gently cut the cucumber off the vine and to avoid damage to the vine. You can also remove a cucumber by twisting it parallel to vine and then giving it a quick snap for a clean break off the vine.

After the end of harvest, remove all vines to prevent diseases and pests (see also healthy soil practices).
Bitter cucumbers?
There are several reasons cucumbers can be bitter. Cool weather, significant temperature variations between day and night, and storing cucumbers near other ripening vegetables, as well as insufficient moisture can cause bitterness. Select varieties that are bred for non-bitterness.
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