The thing I love most about growing cucumbers is that they are such heavy croppers. In fact I think it’s one of the most productive crops I grow, certainly in terms of return on space occupied. I always grow my cucumber vines vertically, on a freestanding frame made of an old galvanized fence panel supported by a couple of star pickets… it works beautifully and inhabits minimal ground space while giving me bumper returns. Just 5 or 6 plants growing at the base keeps us in fresh organic cucumbers for 6-8 weeks… and you can never get a crisper or sweeter fruit than that picked straight from the vine.
It’s a spring /summer crop and it’s warming up where I live in northern NSW so I have planted out a batch of seed this week. Normally I plant directly into the soil, but we are still prone to the odd cold night, which can inhibit germination, so instead I have sown into seed punnets that I leave out in full sun during the day… which quickly warms up the mix in the shallow punnets… and at night, I bring them inside out of the cold. This treatment gets them up and running in a matter of days. Once their roots have almost filled the punnets, I’ll plant them out into the beds. If you’re in a cooler area, and you’re experiencing warm days but freezing cold night, you could pot them up into 100mm pots and continue taking them inside at night until risk of frost has passed. This will give your crop an excellent head start down the track.
Most varieties of cucumbers are monoecious… that means they produce female and male flowers and rely on bees to do the pollinating. If there are a lack of bees about, then it’s up to you to do the pollinating, and it’s easy to do. It’s just a matter of identifying the female and male flowers… female have an immature fruit at their base and male flowers don’t. Some gardeners use a paint brush to transfer the pollen from male to female flowers, but I just pick off a few males and dab the little pollen sacks directly onto the central part of the female flowers. You need to check plants and pollinate every morning, because their flowers only open for one day or so.
I hope you get to plant some cucumber seed soon. I’m also planting close relatives zucchini, watermelon and pumpkin and they’ll all be trained on frames to keep them contained in my limited garden space. If you want to check out some of the simple frame designs I use, be sure to grab the latest issue of ABC Organic Gardener magazine.
First published: August 2012