Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Growing Cucumbers

Cucumbers are another of our favorite warm season edibles for the home garden. A cucumber harvested at the peak of freshness from the summer garden is hands down better than any cucumber you will ever get from the grocery store. Especially those tasteless green tubes masquerading as cucumbers you find at the grocery store during the winter. Eating seasonally is awesome-not only does it just taste better it is also more sustainable.

Growing cucumbers in Portland is relatively easy if you plant them at the right time. Cucumbers need ground temperature of 60-65 degrees and night air temperature of at least 55 degrees. Typically in Portland this is mid May to late June. If the weather is not warm and dry, cucumber plants will grow slowly and fall prey to disease.

Cucumbers cucumis sativus are a member of the cucurbits family along with zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins and melons. Cucumbers require a full sun location with at least 6 hours of sun per day. Cucumbers are rambling vine plants that need to be spaced 3-4 feet apart in all directions. We have successfully grown cucumbers up a trellis in our raised beds. These days there are also patio varieties that don't get as large and are excellent for growing in small spaces including containers. Check out patio snacker!

Cucumbers require very rich well drained soil. They will rot out in the thick clay of native Portland soil. Prepare your planting bed by adding fresh compost and organic matter like coco coir or earthworm castings. Better yet grow cucumbers in a raised bed filled with fresh planting mix.

In Portland you can plant cucumbers by seed or by transplant. Cucumbers are heavy feeders and benefit from an organic granular vegetable fertilizer in the planting hole. Additional applications of organic granular fertilizer are every 4 weeks during the growing season. Once plants have grown to a decent size and are beginning to set flowers and fruit I begin applying an organic liquid bloom fertilizer every 2-3 weeks.

Cucumbers are more than 90% water and are stressed by insufficient watering. Cucumbers want average to moist watering while growing, about 2 inches a week. If it is not raining you will need to provide supplemental water. The frequency and amount will depend on your location and soil. Water stress can be the cause of bitter tasting fruit and odd shaped fruit that is smaller in one end.

Cucumbers and other members of the cucurbits family have separate male and female flowers on the same plant that require pollination for fruit set. If your plants develop flowers and then the subsequent tiny fruits fall off, lack of pollination is the cause. Be sure to plant plenty of flowers in your biodiverse garden to encourage pollinators and keep them safe by growing organically and avoiding the use of sprays.

In Portland it is inevitable for cucumbers to fall prey to the dreaded powdery mildew. The leaves will develop a white residue and then shrivel up with crispy brown edges. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that flourishes in the summer in Portland. To prevent powdery mildew practice crop rotation, clean up all plant debris in the fall. During the growing season you can prevent powdery mildew by spacing your plants appropriately to provide good air circulation. Water the soil, not the plant, by use of a watering wand, drip irrigation or soaker house. If you use overhead watering the fungal disease easily spreads by splashing from leaf to leaf and soil to leaf.

Some cucumber varieties are for slicing and others are for pickling. In general you can harvest any immature cucumber variety for pickling. Our favorite all purpose variety is 'Muncher.'

Other varieties we have enjoyed growing are:
Homemade Pickles

Visit Territorial Seeds for an excellent selection of cucumber varieties tested for the PNW gardener. Portland Nursery also makes some suggestions for the Portland gardener.

Visit Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds for an incredible selection of heirloom and rare varieties.

More tips on growing cucumbers from our friends at Rodale can be found here.

We've still got a few weeks until its time to plant cucumbers in Portland. I can hardly wait! We love to make sun pickles. I can just taste them.

Happy gardening, Jolie

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