Jason Bonham, Horticulturist
Stuck at home and unsure of what to grow? Now is the time to plant cucumbers! Cucumis sativus, aka cucumbers, are part of the Cucurbitaceae family. This family is commonly called the gourd family and contains pumpkins, squashes and zucchini to name a few. Cucumbers are native to India and have been cultivated by humans for over 3,000 years.
Cucumbers are a warm season crop that thrive in organic, well-draining soils. They require generous amounts of fertilizer and may rot off if they are kept too wet. Just to make things more difficult, if they get too dry, the fruit may become bitter. After a deep watering, scratch through the surface of your soil periodically to see how often your soil dries out. The soil and climate should be warm enough by May to plant. You can plant seed directly in the ground or use plants, just take care to not disturb the root system when transplanting. Depending on the cultivar you picked, you may need to create a trellis to support their climbing nature. If you don’t have that much space, try a bush type cucumber. They take up less room in the garden.
Once cucumbers start growing, they can produce fruit in about six weeks. Make sure to harvest the fruit before they get too big or mature. If you don’t pick the fruit, the plant’s production significantly slows as it concentrates on maturing the fruit and seeds. If the skin has gotten hard or changed color, most turning a yellow brown, it’s too old to eat. Though you can save the seed from that mature fruit for next year if you like.
When choosing your cultivars, try to keep in mind how much space you have and what you want them for. If you want a good pickling cucumber, ‘Boston Pickling’ is a good variety. Are you wanting something easy and tasty? ‘Burpless Bush Hybrid’ can get the job done. How about something a little more odd? Try lemon cucumbers; they are spherical and bright yellow with a thin skin. Unfortunately, there is no lemon flavor.
If you’re saying to yourself “ugh these are boring” how about the Sikkim cucumber? This heirloom is native to the Himalayas of Sikkim and Nepal. When the fruit is ripe, it is a rusty red color with light brown cracks covering the fruit. You need to peel these fruits before eating but you’re in for a treat. They are tangy and acidic with a perfect crunch. I try to grow these in the Crops of the World Garden every year, so come and check them out when we’re open!
Peirce, Pam, 2010. Golden Gate Gardening, Seattle: Sasquatch Books
Featured Image: “Cucumber Vine On Garden Fence,” CC0 Public Domain