For salad lovers, cucumbers are a super salad veggie; crunchy, cool on the tongue and calorie free. They are also quick, as most varieties start producing their first fruit about 60 days after sowing.
Unless you have lots of space, grow cucumbers vertically, by training and tying the plants onto a wooden trellis, tee-pee or home-made frame.
For a pretty effect and as a good companion planting principle, grow climbing nasturtiums alongside the cucumber. As the two twine upwards, the nasturtium flowers will attract bees to the cucumber, and provide top to bottom flowers. Nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible, so all can be used in the salad bowl.
Two easy growers are Kirchhoffs ‘Ashley’ that has trim, slightly tapered fruits with a deep green skin, and ‘Sweet Burpless’ that is a thick skinned variety with medium green, long, cylindrical and smooth fruits on vigorous plants.
For something more unusual, cucumber “Crystal Apple’ (RAW) has the shape of a Granny Smith apple with a pale, greenish-white skin, but the taste is pure cucumber with a tang. The smooth, creamy fruit is best eaten young, and is a bright, crunchy addition to salads. It is a compact growing plant.
Enrich the soil before planting because cucumbers do best in fertile soil. Find a position that receives full sun.
Sow seed directly into the soil and keep the soil moist during germination. Seed should germinate within seven days.
Cucumbers need plenty of water during hot and dry periods. The best form of watering is flood watering so that the leaves don’t get wet and become susceptible to mildew.
Pinch off the growing points when the plants are 60cm high to encourage side shoots as most of the fruit develops from this growth.
Feed with a balanced fertiliser (2:3:2) two or three times during the growing season.
Yellow leaves indicate a shortage of nutrients. They quickly recover after feeding. Boost the plant with a liquid feed when the first flowers appear.
Good Companions for cucumbers are beans, chives, green peppers, lettuce, marjoram, dills, nasturtiums, and oregano
Pests and diseases
Cucumbers are relatively pest free but can suffer from downy mildew when conditions are humid but cool while powdery mildew is more prevalent during dry periods. Use a broad-spectrum fungicide like Coppercount N.
Cucumbers produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. The male flowers usually appear first followed by the female flowers which have a small fruit behind the calyx. That’s why it is a good idea to have flowering herbs nearby that attract pollinators.
Cucumbers should be picked as soon as the mature length is reached. Leaving mature fruit on the plant causes it to lose its vigour.
Did you know?
In hot, dry weather, juicing up a cucumber with celery, helps to hydrate the body. Slices of cool cucumber laid on the eyes helps to soothe tired, puffy eyes.
A delicious and versatile way to use cucumber, is to make a Tzatziki dip or sauce. This is a Middle Eastern specialty that is served as a dip with pita bread, or as an accompaniment with mince, beef, lamb, or chicken dishes, usually with salad and pita bread.
To make a simple version of Tzatziki, peel and grate two large cucumbers, squeezing them to extract the liquid. Mix with a finely diced clove of garlic and plain yoghurt (1 ¼ cups). Season with salt and add finely chopped mint (optional). For a more piquant flavour, add a squeeze of lemon.
Published in The Citizen
Written by Alice Coetzee