Hero of the Month: Cucumber

Cucumber for us, is an essential component of any warm season veggie patch. Thrown in salads, pickled, infused in a more cultured G&T or munched in hand, straight off the vine like a neandathal, it is a vegetable that sets off the spring ideology and ball rolling on good times.

Growing cucumber is neither difficult nor tedious. It is a rigorous vine grower that loves water and nitrogen at its infancy, and then water and potassium nearing its maturity. Start by preparing you soil with plenty of compost and pelletized chook manure and ensure the patch is free draining. In anticipation for a healthy vine, construct some sort of trellising frame that will allow the vine to hold on to and then climb. We have found a section of gridded rio mesh perfectly suited to the task.

With any early spring planting, you need to heed caution to the potential for erratic weather. Despite the fact that warmer weather is promised, spring can throw up many curve balls, so it’s best to anticipate and prepare for them. And this will effect the way you prepare and plant your cucumber.

When planting from seed it’s best to propagate in a more controlled environment – that is, in a seed tray that can be left outside during the day and kept safely indoors at night – and then transplanted once conditions heat up. Since plant life is dictated by soil temperature, you are after a temperature of 20 degrees plus, with a warm outlook.

One way of accelerating the heating of the soil is to lay black plastic over the patch to absorb the radiation and send it down below. Use a thermometer or the more ambiguous finger test to ensure the soil is perfectly cooked for transplanting.

Once in ground, water every day for the first few weeks and then cut back to 2-3 times a week as the vine begins to establish and the plants roots are better geared at holding water.

Be diligent in routinely attaching the growing vine to your trellis. This keeps your precious real estate free for plants that require it while also exposing the cucumber to more sunlight, and therefore accelerating its growth. A simple win-win. To avoid clumsy damage, make sure to use soft twine that you tie securely to the trellis first, before loosely wrapping it around the vine.

In the right conditions you may be surprised at how rapidly the fruit begins to set, sometimes only 6 weeks after transplanting your seedling. One trick of the cucumber vine is to hide its first developing fruit amongst the tangles of foliage, so be thorough in any examination and be prepared with a well rehearsed surprise reaction, “oh you didn’t!”.

To ensure that your cucumbers are perfectly formed they will appreciate extra watering as the fruit begins to set, and beware for over exposed fruit that sit on the vine for too long; loosing their colour and flavour. Apply a hit of potassium in the form of liquid potash at the first sign of fruit, as this will see the plant produce to its fullest potential.

When harvesting it’s best to use sharp scissors, otherwise cucumbers demand that you twist the fruit until your hand gets dizzy to break it free from the vine. Yanking at them will only result in collateral damage and slapping your forehead in frustration.

Make sure to pick fruit in a timely manner, as the plant only has a certain amount of energy to produce more cucumbers, and freeing up the plant frees up energy for more production. And more GT’s.

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