KEEP YOUR CUCUMBERS ON THE DRY SIDE. An experiment by NZ Gardener staff writer Barbara Smith found dry was definitely better than constant moisture. ”I’ve struggled to grow cucumbers in the past. Previous plants produced a handful of fruit before dying an ugly, lingering death from mildew, mould, whitefly or fungus. I figured that cucumbers, being mainly water, should get thoroughly watered, so I planted them right on top of the soaker hose at the start where the flow is strongest and the soil is soggiest. This time around, I’d run out of room so I popped a second ‘Lebanese’ cucumber plant in the corner of a wooden raised bed that dries out easily. I’d run out of time too and planted at the start of December – a good month later than I usually do. The first one, planted two weeks earlier in the premium soaker hose spot, produced three cucumbers, and is now sulking (February) – alive, but there’s no sign of more flowers. Plant number two was blasted by wind for weeks on end and the raised bed repeatedly dried out. Its wind-damaged leaves are not a pretty sight but so far it’s produced over 30 cucumbers, including five on one memorable Sunday night after a weekend away. It shows no sign of stopping – there are plenty more flowers and lots of new growth. I eventually twigged that cucumbers don’t need constant moisture after all. In fact, many of their close relatives are native to semi-deserts or prairie lands. Deep watering once or twice a week along with a thick mulch is a better strategy.”
GROWING CUCUMBERS UP A FRAME or tepee reduces the amount of space they take up and there’s less trouble with disease because of the increased air movement. Powdery mildew is almost inevitable, especially in humid regions, but you can delay the spread of the white fungal plague long enough to still get a decent number of fruit without resorting to heavy-duty chemical warfare. Keep an eye out and take action as soon as you spot ghostly white spots, usually on the oldest and lowest leaves. Spray weekly with a mixture of 250ml whole milk (blue top), 750ml water, ½ teaspoon baking soda and a few drops of dishwashing detergent. Thoroughly cover all leaf and stem surfaces until they’re dripping. The milk and baking soda form an alkaline barrier that isn’t conducive to the acid-loving fungi. This method doesn’t cure infections but does slow its progress.
WATCH OUT FOR WHITEFLY AND MITES under the leaves. Spray regularly with Nature’s Way Insect & Mite Spray from the first signs of infestation.
CUCUMBER SNACKERS Our favourite way of using up the cucumber glut is also the easiest – cucumber sarnies, or thick slices of cucumber (minus the bread) with a tasty topping (see below). Using a cookie cutter, cut your cucumber and bread into fancy shapes for special occasions!
TOP TOPPINGS FOR CUCUMBER SLICES • Smoked salmon. The peppery hot smoked version from Ocean Blue is particularly good. • Cream cheese with freshly-ground black pepper by itself or with half a cherry tomato or a snip of chives.