An old gardening friend, the cucumber has been consumed by humans since, well… forever! There’s even evidence for pickled cucumbers as far back as the time of the ancient Egyptians. This fresh-tasting veggie generally prefers warmer weather, but if planted during the right season, it can grow in most climate zones. As different varieties will either grow along the ground, up a trellis, or in a compact, bush form, make sure you research your options prior to planting if space is a concern. Take note that, if growing indoors, cucumbers will need to be hand-pollinated. They’re monoecious, and since male and female flowers open at different stages in the plant’s growth cycle, you’ll need to push the guy towards the gal. Sounds like a middle school dance!
The Straight Eight cucumber is a relatively large variety best picked when it reaches 8″ in length. These cukes are quite popular thanks to their straight shape, deep green color, adaptability to weather and soil conditions. This variety is a trellis grower, so it’ll benefit from a fence or netting to keep the plant stable and the fruit off the ground.
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: 18–24″
Space Between Rows: 24–36″
Germination Soil Temperature: 80–90°F
Days for Germination: 3–10 (the higher the soil temperature, the faster the germination).
Sow Indoors: 3–4 weeks before the last frost.
Sow Outdoors: After fears of frost have passed and when temperatures are in the upper 60s and 70s.
Vegetative: Not recommended, but not impossible! The easiest way to accomplish a vegetative propagation of your cucumber would be through layering. Bend one of the vines of your cucumber plant and partially cover in soil (leaving the growing tip above ground). The portion that is buried will hopefully grow roots and can then be separated from its parent plant.
Rainy summers with low temperatures are not good for cucumbers. They enjoy warm summer climates with night/day temperature ranges of 65–90°F, and seeds will take forever to germinate if soil temperatures are not above 75°F. The cucumber vine will grow in Zones 4–11 but will do best in Zones 5–9.
Natural: Full sun. Will tolerate partial shade if necessary.
Artificial: Halogen or fluorescent lamps will suffice for vegetative growth, switching to HPS once buds have formed to encourage flowering and fruit development.
Soil: Prefers light sandy soils when grown in more northern gardens because the ground is more easily warmed. Use slightly more loamy soils in southern gardens. Cucumbers like a nice neutral pH of 7.0. Mature compost tilled into the soil about 2 inches deep will bring tastier, healthier fruits.
Soilless: Thrives in many soilless media such as rock wool and expanding coco pellets.
hydroponics: This plant can be grown easily in hydroponic systems. In fact, growing cucumbers in large, plastic bins using nothing but a nutrient solution has become a popular technique in the past few years and may be a great option if growing in an urban setting. For more information on how this is done, see our Helpful Links section.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Aim to water 2–3 times per week, keeping soil moist and increasing frequency in severe dry spells.
Nutrients: Add a 2″ layer of compost to the soil before transplanting or when sowing seed. Fertilizing your healthy plants with phosphorus before flowering is recommended for the most bountiful harvest.
Foliar: You can spray your cucumber with a liquid seaweed or compost tea for added nutrient absorption and improved yields.
Pruning: Cucumbers will be most prolific when confined to one healthy and hearty vine: trim off any shoots that may emerge from the main vine to promote uninterrupted growth.
Mulching: Mulch with a natural resource such as straw to retain soil moisture.
Support: Structural support is recommended for the cucumber, so try training the main vine to climb up a post wrapped in chicken wire or a simple trellis.
Deficiency(s): A potassium deficiency is marked by a yellowing of the leaves, while a boron deficiency shows up as scuffing or yellow streaks on the fruit.
Rotation: Avoid planting other members of the cucumber family in the same plot year after year to prevent the spread of disease.
Companions: The cabbage family makes great companions as do sunflower, radish, and tomato. Although their pest repellent properties are praised, aromatic herbs actually make bad companions for the cucumber.
Harvest: Cucumbers should be producing ready-to-harvest fruit around three months after sowing. If your cucumbers start yellowing, pick immediately, since this is a sign of overripeness. Harvest when they are about 8″ long, showing a healthy lush green color, and are firm to the touch. Be warned: peak harvest will have you pickin’ cukes every couple days!
Storage: A cucumber is over 90% water and will keep up to 10 days with refrigeration.
Seed Saving: It’s time consuming and kinda gross, but harvesting cucumber seeds is possible. To do so, allow a few cucumbers to sit on the vine until they turn a golden color. Once this happens, harvest the cucumber and scrape out the insides, which will then sit at room temperature for a few days. Once a fungus starts to form, the gelatinous mixture will start to disappear, leaving the viable seed. Remove these seeds (the ones that end up on top are usually immature, so focus on the seeds at the bottom of your mix) and spread them out to dry.
Preserve: These babies can be frozen, but first slice them and layer with a tablespoon or so of salt. Let this sit for a few hours and then rinse. Place in a plastic container, add about a half cup of vinegar, and then pop in the freezer.
Prepare: Cucumbers are usually eaten raw but are often enjoyed pickled or pureed. Check out our Culinary section for a delicious pickle recipe.
Nutritional: Cucumbers are rich in fiber and water, both of which aid healthy digestion. They also contain vitamin(s) B, C, potassium, and are low in calories.
Medicinal: Fisetin, an anti-inflammatory compound found in cucumbers, is shown to be important in improving brain health. It has been found to be active against memory disorders such as Alzheimers. Cucumbers also contain a number of antioxidants and are a source of natural antihistamines. The seeds of cucumbers have been used as a diuretic and emetic.
Warnings: Leaves can cause skin irritation and upset stomachs in cat friends.
One of the best times of year is late summer when both tomatoes and cucumbers are ripe for the picking! For a delicious and healthy dish, take some of your cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, cut up into chunks, and toss in a bowl with garlic, salt, pepper, oil, and red wine vinegar. If you and bread are on friendly terms, keep the juice at the bottom for dipping at the end. Heaven!
Or, try making the Perfect Homemade Pickles with your bounty!