Growing cucumbers in raised beds is highly encouraged. While my culinary level of use for them is limited to salads and pickling they’ve got other great uses too…add them to smoothies, or cut up a few slices to put over tired eyes. No surprise people always say “cool as a cuke’. Right?? So it pays to plant a few…especially if you love pickles.I know I do, especially the bread and butters. I tried my hand at dills one time from scratch…ask me how that turned out. For now, let’s get one with the business of planting them.
Cucumbers are a summer fruit, they belong to the same family as squash and melons. I’ve got squash and cukes both planted in the same bed and I have a hard time telling them apart as they are very similar looking, while they’re still in that pre-fruit stage with the telltale yellow flowers present.
Types of Cucumbers
Cucumbers originate from SE Asia…Plus there’s some that are long and skinny, as well as round and fat, too 🙂 The bigger cucumbers have a darker green color, and are known as “slicers”, which are best suited for salads. They sometimes have a tendency to taste bitter…but there are some varieties with less of this tendency.
Next is the “pickling” kind, which is what I prefer….they tend to be smaller, lighter green and kind of bumpy. The latter, which I have always planted, may get around 5-6″ in length. There is a third main kind, known as “seedless”. They are reputed to have less of a bitter flavor.
Bush – Bush cukes have plants that do not get to be humungous but the fruits are normal sized, around 7-8″ in length. Spacemasters are another type that produce good sized fruits but the plants themselves do not sprawl out that much, making them great for your elevated beds.
Parisian Gherkins – I’m a big fan of gherkins, only second to the bread and butters. they have a good crunch and nice sweet twang to them – the ideal pickling cucumber. They’re petite, have a lot of bumps and a few dark spines.
Lemon and honey – Both of these are light yellow in color and have a sweet flavor, and do great in salads. Lemons look a lot like the original citrus fruit and have a roundish shape.
Fun Fact: In ancient Rome, Emperor Tiberius always make sure cucumbers were present at the table. The very first pickles may have been preserved in ancient Mesopotamia, over 4000 years ago.
Planting and Spacing
As they are a primarily summertime/warm weather only kind of crop, be sure to wait until the last frost has passed before planting, whether seeds or seedlings.
I have about 4 cucumber plants out currently. The decision for how many plants is up to you, I wanted to err on the side of less, as I stated earlier, their primary uses are in salads and pickles. They are the one veggie (actually, they’re more classified as a fruit, to be honest) that you can’t cook…so if you’re unsure how many you could store up, you may be better off doing like me and just stick to 3-4 plants. Plant them about 12″ apart, as they will grow and spread out as well as produce long vines that will later on need support.
Managing the Growth
With the exception of bush cucumbers, most of them have climbing vines that will need to be managed somehow – they don’t need to be creeping along the ground, where they’ll be susceptible to pests or diseases. So you may need to plan on building a trellis.. There are a number of ways to do so, including A-frames, tower styles, whatever you can come up with on your own that will allow the vines to climb naturally.
You can find suitable frames from your local nursery or if you’ve got the wherewithall, you could probably build up your own!
Care and Maintenance
Cucumbers are susceptible to the mosaic virus which could be treated or prevented with the appropriate fungicide. Also, be sure you are on top of the watering routine, as cucumber plants can dry out quicker than other crops, for one thing they have a high water content.
Harvest and Preservation
The average germination time for cucumbers is about 65 days. When you see your first fruit ready to be picked..(woohoo!) be sure to use a small paring knife to trim it off. Cucumber plants are prickly in some places and not always pleasing to touch. Also be sure you clip off part of the stem with the fruit, as it helps to keep the end from shriveling or breaking down prematurely.
Well ours have really taken off…they started making little tiny fruits right around the start of this month, and it was all upstream from there. We’ve been getting cukes out the ying-yang lately. When you see them develop you’ll notice they may have color variations…they won’t always be a perfect shade of green. Noticing this can attest to how they will taste. Green with some white will taste fine, but ever so often they may take on a deep yellow shade in which case they have over-matured and may taste bitter.
Sometimes they can be spiny on the outside…that’s what those little black thingys you see above are, they look prickly, but they’re harmless. I just take a knife with a smooth edge and brush them off. ..no biggie.
Now on with preservation: Two things…you can’t cook them, and you also can’t freeze them. Cucumbers are 90% water, and any fruit/veggie with a higher water content never freezes well without becoming mushy in the thawout stage. So you will have to preserve them. I’ve always kept the brine left from store-bought pickles just to use as a preservative.
Any excess cukes on hand, and I slice them up and drop them in. Or I will fill up a jar with white vinegar and use that instead. They’ll “keep” like that for awhile, they might turn slightly darker, but for at least a year, they’ll still good to eat.
I’ve been making pickles…this is actually the first time I’ve done this in awhile, but it was a great way to make use of the “older” ones in the batch. As I write this, they’ve got a week to go in the fridge before they will be fully pickled.
Or…you could find some other non-culinary uses…did you know, for instance…
- Cucumbers can freshen your breath…If you don’t have a breath mint, a cucumber slice on the roof of your mouth can do the trick!
- A cucumber slice can help stop a squeaky hinge when you don’t have WD-40.
- Because they contain enough B-vitamins and electrolytes, a few cuke slices could help you become rehydrated enough to relieve a hangover!
Of course, you could always give some of your excess cukes to friends or neighbors…I’m sure they would enjoy that, too.if not to eat, they will love using them for their facial ritual, perhaps?