HOW TO GROW CUCUMBERS
Good news! Cucumbers are virtually foolproof to raise from seed to plate. Of the 17 varieties I sowed at Labour Weekend last year, all had a 100 per cent germination rate, and every variety went on to fruit well. (A little too well: I picked so many cucumbers that even the chooks grew tired of me biffing buckets of surplus fruit at them.)
Provided they are planted in full sun, cucumbers are generous croppers, yielding dozens of fruit per vine, so think carefully about how many you want before sowing. Stick to your favourites, or try something new, like the brown-skinned ’Poona Kheera’. You won't be disappointed.
I raise all my cucurbits, with the exception of pumpkins, which I sow direct, in trays to transplant out in early November. Gerard Martin starts his sowing calendar with cucumbers (indoors with bottom heat), followed a fortnight later by zucchini, then pumpkins, watermelons and rockmelons two weeks after that. “I never direct sow because I lose too many plants to the weeds, whereas if I raise them in trays to the second leaf stage, then weed, they get a good start in a clean bed,” he says.
WHEN TO TRANSPLANT
Because cucurbits are heat seekers, there’s nothing to be gained by jumping the gun and planting them outdoors too early. As with tomatoes, wait until all risk of frosts has passed before planting out.
Cucumbers don’t need much space either – space plants 30cm apart, or 15cm apart if you’re training them up strings or supports. They’re happy to mix and mingle with other crops.
Plant into free-draining, fertile soil and mulch to keep their roots cool in summer. Powdery mildew is always a problem in humid weather, but it usually comes on late, when you’ve eaten your fill already!
TO BURP OR NOT TO BURP?
Cucumbers used to be very bitter. That‘s because they contain compounds known as cucurbitacins, a sour survival mechanism to deter foraging animals. This has been largely bred out of most modern varieties, but a lack of water (drought stress) can also make them bitter.
If you hate eating cucumbers because they make you burp, cucurbitacins are the culprit. Heirloom varieties are more gassy whereas new hybrids have been bred to be “burpless”, so give cucumbers another go.
If you hate eating cucumbers because they make you burp, cucurbitacins are the culprit.
Top of the crops: ‘Iznik’.
My daily harvest!