Growing Cucumbers: One of the joys of growing a summer garden is cutting a cucumber directly from the vine and enjoying that fresh, fresh first bite. The objective: to grow an abundance of cucumbers with a sweet and refreshing taste. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, they will taste bitter.
Stressed plants are more likely to develop this unhappy taste, but the degree of bitterness depends on the severity of the stress. In general, stress is often caused by insufficient and uneven humidity, but extreme temperatures and poor nutrition can also play a role. Minimize stress and maximize flavor by following these steps when growing cucumbers:
1. Keep your cucumbers hydrated
Provide the cucumber plants with lots of moisture, especially during the flowering and fruiting process. Any water stress during this period of rapid growth increases the levels of bitter-tasting compounds. Cucumbers are vigorous growers and therefore need 1 to 2 inches of water per week, depending on the weather and soil type. The key is to keep the soil slightly moist at all times. Water deeply about once or twice a week – and more often if you are gardening in sandy soil.
2. Add mulch to your cucumber bed
To further reduce water stress, surround cucumber plants with mulch to maintain and moderate humidity levels while blocking weeds. Just wait until summer or after the soil has warmed above 70 ° F before applying organic mulch such as straw.
3. Set the temperature
Cucumbers like hot conditions, but growing fresh and tasty baking in the heat can sometimes be a challenge. In fact, high temperatures not only affect the quality of fruit, but they can also cause plants to produce more male flowers. FYI: The female flowers produce fruit; male flowers usually appear first and then fall off.
“Cucumbers are really sensitive to high heat,” says horticulturalist Emily Gatch, greenhouse and pathology coordinator at Seeds of Change in New Mexico. “It can be very difficult for plants if temperatures are constantly in the mid-90s.” If you’re growing cucumbers in a warm climate, Gatch recommends providing the plants with filtered shade in the afternoon to help cool things down, either by strategically planting taller crops at the south end or by adding a tissue d shading to block 40 to 50% of sunlight. .
4. Give cucumber plants sunlight and good soil
For best-tasting fruit and optimal yields, grow plants in a sunny location and in warm, fertile, well-drained soil rich in organic matter with soil pH between 6 and 7. If possible, plant cucumbers in a raised bed or potted garden to make sure the soil drains properly. Wait to sow seeds or do transplants until all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 60 degrees – usually two weeks after the last frost. You can start seeds indoors three to four weeks before the outdoor planting date.
5. Fertilize cucumber plants
Plants feed a lot, so be sure to feed the soil with rich compost or aged manure. Once the vines have developed runners and the first flowers have appeared, perform a side treatment with compost, aged manure or fertilizer once a month.
When the leaves of your plant turn yellow, it is a sign that they need more nitrogen. To do this, give more space to the cucumber plants – literally. FYI: Trellised plants should be planted 8 to 12 inches apart, varieties of space bushes should be planted 3 feet apart in all directions, and hills with one or two plants should be planted about 3 feet apart apart, with rows 4 to 5 feet apart.
6. Get rid of weeds
The best way to protect your cucumbers from pests, such as cucumber beetles, is to weed the area frequently. Weeds can host bacterial wilt disease, which is spread by cucumber beetles. Over time, these beetles can kill a cucumber plant, especially if it is already stressed due to poor water, sun or soil conditions.
7. Use row covers
Row covers, hotcaps (or plastic milk cartons with caps removed) and plastic tunnels are great for getting your cucumber garden up and running. Row covers not only help plants grow faster and flower earlier, but they also protect plants from pests. Just be sure to remove any coating once the plants begin to bloom.
8. Grow flowers nearby
Like people, plants get by with a little help from their friends. Cucumbers need to be pollinated to produce, so plant pollinator-friendly flowers nearby. If you don’t attract pollinators, you will likely get cucumber flowers, but not fruit or odd-shaped fruit.
Different varieties of cucumber to plant
Some common cucumber varieties contain compounds called cucurbitacins that give the fruit a bitter taste. When under stress, cucurbitacin levels rise, causing an unpleasant bitter taste. Here’s good news: you can completely prevent bitterness by selecting various types of cucumbers that contain a certain gene that prevents the formation of cucurbitacins. These long specimens, very thin and seedless, which can be marked as “rot-free”, are generally sold in shrink film with plastic to protect their thin skins.
Keep in mind that different varieties of cucumbers grow better under certain conditions. For example, Pick-a-bushel, Parisian pickle, and Bush salad are all compact bush varieties, so they should be planted in raised beds or mulch gardens. Diva, Martini, and Eight straight lines are vine cucumbers that crawl along the ground or climb on a trellis.
You don’t know which variety to plant this year? Try some of our favorite choices in your garden:
- Holland Hothouse (64 days from planting to maturity): A type of Dutch greenhouse that can be grown outside; these bitter-free and burp-free cukes have a fresh, sweet taste. For straight fruit, trellis the vines.
- Marketmore 97 (55 days): Developed at Cornell University, it is a bitter-free, disease-resistant slicer.
- Tyria (56 days): Another type of Dutch greenhouse, producing slightly ribbed dark green fruits up to 14 inches long. Harvest between 10 and 12 inches long for better flavor.
- Amira (55 days): Middle Eastern type; sweeter flavor than most with a crunchy texture; thin-skinned fruits best harvested at 4 to 5 inches.
- Fresh breeze (45 days): A type of French pickle (small cucumbers intended for pickling); smooth skin; soft and crisp flesh with great flavor; harvested when 4 to 5 inches long; gives fruit without pollination.
- Diva (55 days): smooth, thin and peel-free skin; distinctly tender, crunchy and delicately sweet; best chosen at 4 to 5 inches.
- Orient Express (64 days): tasty, oriental type with fruits with thin skin and dark green; very disease-tolerant vines.
- Sweet marketmore (62 days): Disease-resistant vines produce regularly in hot or cool weather; great flavor without burp.
- Tasty green (65 days): Very tasty with dark green juicy fruits, sweet and juicy; can be grown indoors or outdoors.
- Armenian (60 days): Also known as snake melon; does well in hot weather. Long, thin, light green fruits are thornless and almost always curved, unless grown on a trellis and harvested 12 inches long. The fruit is somewhat sweet, with a mild, slightly lemony flavor.
- Socrates (52 days): Works well in cooler conditions; can be grown indoors in places that stay between 50 to 82 ° F; the dark green, thin-skinned fruits are sweet, tender and seedless.
How to harvest cucumbers
Depending on the variety, the cucumbers are ready to be harvested 50 to 70 days after planting. You can expect longer harvests of higher quality cukes if you pick the fruit frequently and before it gets too big.
The size at which you harvest depends on the variety grown. For optimal taste and texture, American slicers are generally best when harvested 6 to 8 inches in length; Middle Eastern types like Amira should be picked between 4 and 6 inches; most 3 to 5 inch picklers; and Asian varieties from 8 to 12 inches.
To harvest, simply grab the fruit and cut the stem with pruning shears or a kitchen chisel a quarter of an inch above. You can keep the harvested cucumbers in the refrigerator for 7-10 days. But this is not a unique affair: the more you harvest, the more fruit your cucumber will produce, so keep picking them!