One of the easiest ways to give gardening a go is to plant something that’s low maintenance and easy to grow. As such, cucumbers might be just what your veggie patch needs.
Cucumbers are at home in any garden, especially if you need to make the most of your available space. Plus, unlike some fruits and veggies, cucumbers are ready to eat as soon as they’re picked — no waiting around for your cukes to ripen. Consider it an easy peasy on-demand snack.
With this guide, you’ll learn about the different varieties of cucumbers you can plant and get some helpful tips on how to grow cucumbers like a pro. You’ll also learn about the benefits of growing your own food. Let’s jump in!
What Are Cucumbers?
Believe it or not, those crunchy slices of goodness nestled in your salad aren’t vegetables at all. Cucumbers are a fruit, and members of the plant family Cucurbitaceae (which includes melons and squash). And like melons and squash, your cucumber plants will be the happiest in warm weather.
Before your cucumber plants produce fruit, they’ll first need to grow male and female flowers. No flowers mean no cucumbers. But once your cucumber plants do bloom, expect to see industrious little honey bees carrying out the pollination process by moving pollen from male flowers to female flowers. Some cucumbers can set fruit without having the female flowers pollinated, but expect these cucumbers to have fewer seeds than average.
If you don’t have a robust bee population, invite some native bees into your yard, such as mason or leafcutter bees. You can order cocoons online and set up a bee house near your garden. Native bees are solitary and don’t produce honey, so you can enjoy beekeeping without the fear of getting stung. They’re excellent pollinators so count on a flourishing garden.
Choosing Your Cucumbers
While you might be most familiar with the garden cucumbers sold at your local grocery store, there are several cucumber varieties to pick from if you’d like to get started growing cukes at home.
When you’re deciding what types of cucumbers you’d like to plant in your garden, it really comes down to what you’d like to do with them. Slicing cucumbers are usually bigger and have thinner skin with a softer flesh, making them great additions to gazpacho, smoothies, salads, salsas, and condiments like tzatziki.
English or hothouse cucumbers are another popular option, and they don’t have seeds, so you won’t have to worry about de-seeding them for recipes. Persian cucumbers look similar to English cukes but are usually smaller (around 5-6 inches long). Lemon cucumbers are a little sweeter and perfect for slicing.
Pickling cucumbers are shorter, have thicker skin, and an exceptionally crunchy flesh that makes them perfect for DIY kitchen projects. Keep your eyes peeled for Calypso, Pioneer, Gherkin (a type of small cucumber), or Boston pickling cucumbers for the ideal addition to a sandwich or a tangy snack.
Lastly, think about whether you’d like to go with heirloom or hybrid cucumber seeds as each has its advantages. With heirloom cucumbers, you’ll be able to save your seeds after each season for future harvest.
On the flip side, while you can’t save hybrid seeds, they may be more disease resistant than heirloom types. By choosing a hybrid, you could have plants that are less susceptible to downy mildew, bacterial wilt, or powdery mildew — all diseases that can cost you time later down the line.
Back to the Roots seed packets are always 100% organic and grown domestically in the United States. With many brands, you can’t always be sure where your seeds are coming from, so choose from companies that value transparency in their sourcing.
Setting Up Your Cucumber Garden
First things first. Before you can learn how to grow cucumbers, you must evaluate how much space you’re working with. If you have room in your yard, you could opt for bush varieties of cucumbers. Alternatively, if you’re working with a small garden, vining cucumbers might be a better fit. A cucumber trellis can ensure your cucumber vines have somewhere to go, but instead of spreading out on the ground, they’ll have a smaller footprint in your garden.
A note on trellises — if you have other fruits or veggies in your garden that enjoy full sun, be mindful of your cucumber plants blocking some of that light when they begin to mature and grow.
Once you have your seed packets and are ready to start planting cucumbers, check the forecast in your area. If it’s still chilly out, you’ll probably want to start your cucumber plants indoors. Cucumbers don’t tolerate cold weather, but that doesn’t mean you have to save them for summer. As long as daily temperatures are consistently above 65 degrees, you can get started.
Starting plants indoors can extend your growing season. By not exposing them to the elements, you can ensure the germination process goes smoothly as cucumber seeds are sensitive to soil temperature. Get your plants going three to four weeks before transplanting them.
Prior to moving your plants outside, double-check the last frost date. Take a peek at your seed packets for instructions or look at the Old Farmers’ Almanac online to get an idea. Once the risk of frost has passed, you can move your plants outdoors. If you aren’t sure, you can use black plastic row covers to protect them (but watch airflow). They can keep your cucumber plants safe from pests and maintain a warmer soil temperate.
Cucumbers need full sun and regular watering — aim for at least an inch of water per week, if not two. It’s essential to plant them in soil with good drainage. If you’re not up for regular watering, a drip irrigation system can help you stay on top of it. Raised beds might be a good option here as they allow for better soil drainage.
Once you’ve set up your garden, think about fertilizing your plants at least once. Aim to harvest cucumbers before they become oversized or their skin starts to yellow.
Why Home Grown Fruits and Veggies Matter
Whether you relish keeping a garden year-round, save it for the spring and summer months, or keep an indoor herb garden, there are advantages to growing your own fruits, veggies, and herbs. Here are just a few:
Preserve Soil Quality
One benefit of growing your own food is preserving the soil quality, and fertile soil can make all the difference in a growing season.
Nutrient-rich soil can supply your plants with exactly what they need to thrive, such as phosphorus, magnesium, nitrogen, potassium, and more. All that vital nourishment translates to heartier plants and helps them fend off diseases and pests.
If you’ve already picked up organic seed packets to get your summer garden started, protect that investment by planting them in high-quality, organic potting soil. (Back to the Roots is launching a premium, root-boosting organic potting soil in spring 2021, so stay tuned!) You’ll be giving your seedlings the best start possible and making it easier to transplant them later in the season.
Adding compost to your garden is another fantastic way to keep it healthy. The organic matter in your compost can add even more nutrients, further improving the soil quality.
Unlike store-bought fruits and veggies, you can control pesticide use in your own garden. Spreading mulch or diatomaceous earth can steer bothersome bugs away.
Watch out for cucumber beetles and aphids. Try making homemade insecticidal soap or use neem oil to keep them from damaging your plants. Or try inviting other helpful insects into your garden. Ladybugs are one of nature’s forms of pest control and love to feast on aphids. Release them in the evening out of direct sunlight and in an area that’s been watered.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your cucumber plants could develop a fungus or disease. Look for safe and natural fungicides at your local Home Depot Garden Center or Walmart Garden Center to stay on top of it.
Growing your own fruits and veggies is eco-friendly and sustainable. You can’t be sure how long it’s been since the cucumber at the supermarket was picked. But with your own garden, you know you’re getting the freshest produce possible.
There’s less waste too. You can pick what you need, when you need it, saving on trips to the supermarket.
Learn How To Grow Cucumbers for You and Your Family
Learning how to grow cucumbers in your garden is well worth the time and effort. You can include the whole family in the process and have fun exploring the different varieties you can choose from.
With a little bit of work, you can create a thriving cucumber garden in the space you have. Treat it with care, fertilize it regularly, and stay on top of pest control. In time, you’ll be rewarded with a bounty of crisp cucumbers to enjoy however you please.