Planting and Growing

when to Plant: Cucumbers are less hardy than winter squashes but are more hardy than melons. Wait to plant or transplant into the garden until the weather is truly warm, after the corn, at the same time that you would plant watermelon—about a week after your last frost date. (A frost would be the end for them.) In a very hot climate like that of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, an early spring planting (February or March) and a late summer one do best. Cucumbers like a warm summer and lots of sunshine. how to plant: Cucumbers need well-manured, well-tilled ground and plenty of water all through their growing season. We plant from seed directly in the garden around June 1, which is when we can start to trust the weather to be and stay warm here. Cucumbers are only 55 to 65 days to maturity, so a late start still gives you time for a good crop if you have a reasonably long growing season.

It's possible to transplant cucumbers, but it's a little risky because they don't do well if their root system is disturbed. So if you start them inside, do so using a system that lets you set them out in the garden in the same block of dirt in which they grew inside—little peat pots, for instance. Or plant in the garden under paper or plastic, which gives you a little extra safety as the weather is warming up.

Most people plant them in hills, 4 to 5 feet apart each way, 1 inch deep. Allow 7 to 10 days for germination, about 75 days to maturity. If you want to plant cucumbers in rows instead of hills, make the rows about 7 feet apart, and thin the plants to 12 to 18 inches apart in the row. Container and Trellis Growing: Cucumbers do exceptionally well in containers, and they produce for city dwellers even in rooftop gardens. You can fit 3 bush cucumber plants into a container the size of half a whiskey barrel. Provide at least 3 gal. soil per plant, at least 1 foot deep, plants at least 6 inches apart. In the garden, you can crowd them more if you give the vines something to climb up. Lane Morgan says she usually uses trellises with hers "to save space and make life harder for the slugs."

Thinning and Weeding: In hills, thin to about 4 plants per hill if you have well-composted or manured soil, less if you don't. But don't thin until the plants are at least 3 weeks old, because they have a high fatality rate and you may end up with too few. Weeding in your cucumber patch can be done thoroughly and with a rototiller while the little plants are at home on cucumber hill. But when they start "running," as it's called, with long, leafy stems covering the ground every which way, that's the end of the cultivating. You can still weed by hand, though. watering: Cucumbers need plenty to drink, especially after they start making cucumbers. A cucumber is 95 percent water, which has to come from somewhere. Figure on a deep watering at least once a week. You don't have to water every piece of ground the running vine is covering. If you're short of water, concentrate it near the hill where the primary roots are. Once the cucumber vines start bearing fruit, as long as you keep watering, they will keep bearing cucumbers until the frost kills them. A few vines can produce a lot of cucumbers before the summer is over. But if you let your vines dry out badly, the cucumbers will taste so bitter that you won't be able to eat them, and even the very little ones that have experienced such a drought will grow up with that bitter taste. So if they do dry out badly, it's a good idea to pick off all the cucumbers, water the plant well, and let it start from scratch again. Beetles and Diseases: Cucumber beetles do their damage while the plant is young, before it starts to run. They attack the lower part of the stem and the underside of the leaves. Commercial farmers generally have more trouble with them than do home gardeners. It doesn't take a whole lot of cucumber plants to give your family a good supply. If you live in cucumber-beetle country, you can protect the little plants by covering them with frames over which you have stretched fly screen or mosquito netting—wooden box-type frames set into the dirt, for instance, or wire frames with the edges of the netting held down by covering with dirt. When the plants have grown big enough to hold their own, you can store away the whole rigging for use next year. It helps control diseases if you destroy the old vines and cucumbers by burning at the end of each year and don't plant cucumbers in the same place in your garden 2 years in a row. If you've never grown cucumbers before, the best way to find out what problems you will face is to simply plant some and see what happens.

Continue reading here: Saving Seed

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