How to grow cucumbers

Cucumbers are available in the supermarkets all year round, flown in from sunnier climates. Learn here how to grow your very own.

 

Preparation
  • Cucumbers can be grown in hills (clusters of two or three plants) or in rows. Hills are to many gardeners the traditional way to plant cucumbers, but rows are particularly well suited for growing cucumbers up a fence or beside a trellis.
  • Rows should be spaced 2 metres apart; make hills 30cm in diameter, spacing the perimeters 2 metres apart.
  • Soil preparation is important; cucumbers need fertile soil with good drainage. Dig up the earth to a depth of about 30cm, and work in 1 wheelbarrow full of well-rotted manure or rich compost for every 3 meters of row or for every two hills you plan to plant.
  • In most areas cucumber seeds are sown indoors in individual peat pots two to three weeks before the last expected frost. (Pots are recommended rather than flats because cucumbers will not tolerate the root disturbance that is inevitable when you separate plants grown in flats.)
Planting
  • Sow three seeds 1cm deep in each pot, and when the seedlings are about 4cm tall, thin them to the strongest one. 
  • Seedlings will be ready for transplanting outdoors in three or four weeks. Space them 30cm apart in rows, or place two or three seedlings in the centre of each hill.
  • Sow the seeds directly in the garden at about the time of the last expected frost. Remember to label the pollinating plants so that you do not later thin them out unwittingly. For rows plant seeds 1cm deep and 10-15cm apart. When the seedlings are about 4-5cm tall, thin them to stand 30cm apart.
  • For hills plant six to eight seeds per hill, 1cm deep, and later thin the seedlings to two to three per hill.
  • Young cucumber plants are often set back by spring rain and cold. You can protect them against the elements by covering them with translucent caps, which are available at most garden centres.
  • Cucumbers need moisture; so water the soil frequently, and spread a thick layer of organic mulch or lay a black plastic mulch before planting to help the soil remain damp. A plastic mulch has the added advantage of warming the soil for early plantings.
  • If weeds manage to grow despite the mulch, pull them out by hand to avoid injuring the cucumbers’ shallow root systems.
  • Slicing-type cucumbers are fully ripe when they get to be 15-0 cm long; pickling cucumbers, when they are 4-8cm long. But either type of cucumber may be picked before it reaches full size.
  • Strip your vines of mature cucumbers every two or three days, or the plants will stop producing.
  • Pick the cucumbers while they are still dark green. To pick the fruit off the vine, hold the vine firmly in one hand while you twist off the cucumber with the other hand.