Cucumbers are staples of the salad season and provide a green tasting lift to water. They really are not just for sandwiches because you can have them pickled, grated into a salad and even stir-fried with spices.  For the beauty conscious cut up into slices, where they are often placed on closed eyes to cool and refresh them They also provide iconic garnishes for Pimms.

cucumbers, some half cut in a steel bucket.
Photo by congerdesign, courtesy of Pixabay.

Consider Outdoor Growing Of Cucumbers !

The best way to grow cucumbers is in the greenhouse when in the United Kingdom but don’t be put off as there are a number of varieties that can be grown outside.

If you are thinking of growing outdoors then the ridge cucumbers are ideal. We often overlook them, seeing them as poor relations of the indoor types. They might not look the happiest when gown out but they do have the best flavour. They are also surprisingly easy to grow outdoors than you think. Probably best established in the greenhouse to begin with but when the warmer weather comes think about a plot for them. They clearly need a decent amount of sunshine but given the right soil conditions, they just keep on fruiting all summer.

Marketmore‘ is worth trying outside. I’ve tried them trailing over the ground on a cover fabric or a straw mulch. Alternatively, grow over some support to keep the fruit off the ground by trailing them up a trellis or fence or on a framework of canes.

Sow: April -May (indoors), May-June (outdoors). The best sowing time is between April and May and indoors.

Harvest fruit: July to October.

What does a ‘ridge’ cucumber mean ?

The term ‘ridge’ comes from the manner in which they were first grown. The plants were grown on mounds or ridges so that drainage was good because the roots and stems are prone to rotting on a cold, wet soil. The long, trailing stems are trained along the sides of a ridge. They can also be trained up a trellis, fence or just canes for space as we do for greenhouse types.

Sowing Cucumber Seeds Indoors

All varieties are susceptible to frost so sowing is best done in the warmth.

Sow seed into large-celled trays or small pots. I prefer individual 7.5cm or 9cm (3 and 1/2 inch) pots. Sow the seed about 1.5 cm (1/2 in.) deep. Use multi-purpose compost or a specific sowing compost. Do one seed per cell because we find germination rarely fails. The larger the volume of sowing the less root disturbance and possible damage to stems.

It is wise to plant the seed on its edge to prevent rotting. The water just drains away from the side but in reality this actually is still a myth – we still do it just to maximise our chances of germination.  

Place in a propagator or under glass at a constant day and night temperature of 21°C minimum (70F) to 25 °C. Cover with the lid.  Another way is to place the pots inside a sealed polythene bag for germination. Remove from any cover once the seeds have formed their two seed leaves. Check for drying out and take off the lid to remove condensation to reduce the risk of rotting.

Seedlings appear within 7 to 10 days.

Uncover the seedlings and keep the temperature constant until the leaves have unfurled on most of the plants. Once that stage is reached the heat can be reduced to 15C (60F). Any pot bound plants are potted on into larger pots using the same growing medium.

Sowing Cucumbers For Outdoor Growing

As with greenhouse cucumber, the outdoor varieties are still very tender and should never be planted out until those frosts have gone. The sowing time is then the end of May or beginning of June. Try to time the sowing to account for this. Plants will take four to six weeks from sowing to planting, depending on the weather conditions outside.

It is a safe bet that there will be one frost at least in the month of May in the UK for example.

Plant two seeds per station. A station is a ridge or mound of compost with some manure added. Cover with a cloche or a half plastic bottle. Protect any plants from slugs and snails using animal-friendly pellets around the plant. 

Growing On Cucumbers

As soon as the seedlings have formed 3 true leaves, transplant into 15 cm (6 inch) pots. Continue to transplant into good compost with garden soil and manure if you intend to grow in the greenhouse. Train up a support and tie in at various intervals.

For growing outside:

When the plants are about 10 cm to 15 cm tall (4 -6 inch) tall, they can be hardened off if they are to be planted outdoors and once all risk of frost has passed. Hardening is best done by acclimatizing the plants outside for 7 to 10 days. Hardening off is the process of getting a plant ready for outdoors life. It is often overlooked when it comes to a variety of plants but is incredibly important. Place the plants in a cold-frame if you have one on a warm day. Bring them back in at night initially. After a week assuming the weather is suitable, plant them in their permanent growing positions outside.

Planting out is best around June but it is possible to do this in mid-May in more southerly regions of the UK.

Soil Preparation

Grow in a pre-prepared seedbed. Lets face it, cucumbers are one of the hungriest greedy plants I know of so plant in a sunny and fertile spot. It needs to be sheltered and does not like cold, wind-damaging positions. In exposed sites, it is better to plant on traditional ridges, covering with a cloche at first and training any growth into the protection of the furrow.

The mounds or ridges are made about a week before planting. With mounds just dig out the soil required for planting the rootball. Enrich this with plenty of well-rotted manure and a small amount of fertiliser. 

Plant in rows, allowing 60cm (2ft) apart in either direction, between each plant.  About a week after planting, dress the soil with a balanced fertiliser such as growmore or some pelleted chicken manure. Rake this into the soil.

Another aspect of planting outdoors is to plant the cucumber with it at the top of the compost level with the soil in the new spot and firm gently in before watering thoroughly.

Grow up against netting or canes in an obelisk if you are growing vertically. Tie the branches carefully to do this with soft string. Take care not to damage or cut into the stems. Keep tieing in as the plants grow. You can allow to grow along the ground as in the wild.

When growing along the ground, plant through a soil covering fabric or black polythene and trail the plants over this to keep the foliage and fruit free of rain splashing.

Most fruits will form from August onwards.

Maintaining Care Following Planting

Outdoor cucumbers need to be well watered especially during dry spells. This will maintain growth and reduce the risk of powdery mildew. Keep looking out for pests and treat accordingly. The worst culprits are slugs and snails which are active at night and in warm weather.

Tie plants in regularly. Pinch out the growing tips of the plant once six or seven leaves have developed. It encourages more branches so that fruit will form and improve strength as it grows through the trellis. It is a good idea to remove unproductive sideshoots.

Feed every week with a high-potash tomato feed when the first fruit sets. Feed and water regularly (seems obvious).

Outdoor grown cucumbers will produce both male and female flowers. The females are identified with the embryo fruit behind the petals. These are slow to appear at first. If the cucumbers are grown outdoors do not remove any of the male flowers otherwise there is no pollination. Many varieties like ‘Marketmore‘ are designed for outdoor growing and so must retain their male flowers.

In cold, wet weather you might it expedient to transfer pollen on a soft brush from the male flower to the female to enforce fertilization. When the temperature rises there is less need to do this.

Harvesting Cucumbers

Continue to pick the fruits regularly to ensure a continuous crop. Try not to damage the thin stems on cutting the fruit. The more that are cut the more fruit they produce. If they are allowed to set seed then fruiting is lost. The modern varieties are smoother and thinner skinned than the heritage types so the latter are usually peeled before eating. Many the time have i seen my parents cutting the rind from a cucumber to make sandwiches.

Picking is mostly from July through to October when the cucumbers are 20cm long as this encourages continuous cropping.

The fruit stores for up to a week in the fridge when wrapped in clingfilm or placed in a food bag. When there is a glut either give away or pickle in whit wine vinegar with dill and sugar. 

Issues & Problems With Cucumbers

Powdery mildew produces white, dusty and powdery coatings on both sides of the leaves as well as stems and petioles. Often seen in late summer when the season for cucumbers is nicely progressing.

Mildew usually develops first on any older and lower leaves and indeed on older or fruit bearing plants. The infected leaves die sooner than they should. The fruit can also be affected but is not as common.  This pathogen only survives on a living plant and not on any crop debris. It will grow on curcubits generally and on some surrounding weeds. The disease occurs any time of the year. The spores are highly viable and are borne by the wind, remaining viable for up to eight days. Unfortunately the mildew grows on plants  under glass. Growing resistant cultivars, good cultivation and after care with plenty of water minimises the problem.

Plants are vulnerable to slugs and snails so look for damage and treat using your preferred method of choice. They are of greatest danger in young plants or when the weather is wet and the ground on which fruit is growing is accessible. 

Foot and root rots of Phytophera spp. produce collapsing plants – just remove if this is evident. Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV) causes leaves to turn yellow and become mottled and distorted too. The plant collapses soon afterwards. Remove all affected plants but there are some reliable resistant cultivars about.

Red spider mites and aphids cause damage in the summer. Red spider mite is always a problem in greenhouses as it loves dry conditions so keeping the humidity high reduces an attack and biological controls are available. Spider mites cause discolouration and yellowing of the leaves. Best discouraged by misting the leaves regularly in the morning or evening during the summer. Aphids spread disease like CMV. Spray if necessary.

Cucumber Varieties To Grow

cv. ‘Burpless Tasty Green’ F1 – a prolific, producing good quality 23cm (9in.) fruits. Great tolerance to mildew. Purchase seeds from Sutton Seeds.

cv. Bush Champion (ridge) (H2) 1995. High yielding cucumber, bush variety producing short, dark green fruits. Nicky’s Nursery T:01843 600 972

cv. Byblos (H1c) 2009 Early and reliable cropping. Smooth-skinned, dark green fruits with good flavour. Suttons 0844 326 2200

cv. Carmen F1. (H1c) 2002 An indoor variety with superb resistance to powdery mildew and scab, ‘Carmen’ is often the choice of top exhibition growers. It’s an outstanding all-female strain and produces an abundance of straight, large dark green fruits which can grow up to 40cm/16in. long. Ideal for slicing. Buy from Seaspringseeds T: 01308 897 898

cv. Cucino (H1c) 2009  prolific producer of smooth, mini fruits. Grown in greenhouse or a sheltered location outdoors. Victoriana Nursery. T: 01233 740 529

cv. Emilie (H1c) 2009. Highly productive, almost entirely female plants with flavoursome, dark green fruits. Johnsons seeds: 0333 321 3103

cv. Marketmore 76. (ridge) (H2) 1995 A ridge cucumber for outdoor growing with great flavour which is an ideal type for slicing with dark green 20cm or 8 inch long fruits. These are strong plants with good disease resistance especially to mildew but make sure not to remove the male flowers. Reliable producer and one of the best to be honest. Produces plenty of stout fruit. Marshalls Seeds T: 0844 557 6700

cv. Mini Munch (H1c) 2009 Heavy cropping cucumber producing an abundance of small fruits. Kings Seeds T: 01376 570 000

cv. Patio Snacker F1. A high-yielding variety suitable for growing in large containers with the support of some trellis or canes. The dark green fruits are around 15-20cm (6-8in.) long and have great flavour. Can be grown indoors or our for a summer-long harvest.

cv. Prima Top (H2) 2001 Produces high yields of medium-length, dark green fruits. Remains fairly compact. Suttons T: 0844 326 2200

cv. Socrates F1. (H1c) 2009. Smooth mini-cucumbers are great for smaller households. A vigorous, fast=growing high-yielding all-female strain for the greenhouse or polytunnel. Very good flavour. Buy from Plants of Distinction 01449 721 720

cv. Tiffany (H1c) 2009 Produces a uniform crop of slightly ribbed, dark green fruits. Thompson & Morgan T: 0844 573 1818 

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