HOW TO GROW CU­CUM­BERS

NZ Gardener - - 2018 Gardener Of The Year -

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.

SOW­ING SCHED­ULE

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!

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