We bid adieu to our cucumbers just this week. It was a bit premature, but not disappointingly so. We got just enough to be satisfied but not so much as to be swimming in cucumbers. More than anything, we learned a fair amount from growing these tasty snacks.
Cucumbers originated in India some 3,000 years ago. They then spread throughout the world via trade and colonization reaching the Americas some time in the 1600s. They were a favorite of emperors and kings, natives and peasants alike. At some point during the 17th century, it was believed that eating raw produce was bad for you (oh how wrong they were!) and so cucumbers, as they can’t really be cooked, became worthy only of cow food. The name cucumber likely progressed from them being called cowcumbers.
The variance in cucumbers is actually quite staggering in my opinion. They can be green, white, yellow or almost a burnt orange color. They can be gigantic or tiny, smooth or prickly. Some need pollination from a male flower on the same plant (monoecious), some need pollination from another cucumber plant (self-incompatable), some cucumbers get worse if they get pollinated at all (parthenocarpic … in this case, also know as hot-house cucumbers as they have to be grown in greenhouses to prevent wind and bugs from pollinating), and others will make plants that are almost exclusively female flowers (gynoecious). Slicers, picklers, burpless … the options are endless it seems! Crazy right?
We grew the Sugar Crunch Hybrid cucumbers from Burpee. If you like very watery, squishy and seedy cucumbers … these are NOT the ones for you. This were smaller, sweeter, crispy and so fresh that they almost had a hint of lime to them. The skin was thin and tender though still. Nothing like the stuff from the grocery store! So much better! SFG (square foot gardening) allows for 2 cucumber plants per square. And it did work. But boy do these plants expand up a trellis and the leaves are so wide that I wonder if tending them would have been easier with 1 plant/sq ft. Not just because of size, but these, like most others in the Cucurbitaceae family, have really obnoxious, itchy, prickly hairs. And they are on the stems and leaves and the cucumbers too in fact. Man if these little buggers catch you in the wrong place, it will sting and drive you mad for a few minutes. Ugg! Wear gloves at the very least.
We only planted 2 cucumber plants this year. Which I am now regretting as we have gotten quite excited about pickling cucumbers. The aforementioned self-incompatablity feature is quite common in cucumbers, which I didn’t know at the time of planting, making it important to plant enough to draw some pollinators. In fact, one of my plants was strongly gynoecious giving us almost all female flowers and no male, whereas the second plant was somehow almost exclusively male. Go bees go! And when the bees were not so helpful, I jumped in with some hand pollination. I guess it worked out well enough as we got 81 cucumbers out of 1 sq. ft. from the deal. One. Square. Foot. Man I love Square Foot Gardening!
They like hydration … not drowning … but hydration. I have been very diligent with watering my tomatoes and I make a point of watering the cucumbers at the same time, being sure to keep the leaves dry. This make sense that these hot weather lovers need lots of water when you realize that a cucumber can be as much as 90% water. Also, I gave them an organic fertilizer once during the season. Seemed to go pretty well.
But then the bugs set in. At first it was easy enough to keep the squash bugs (stink bug looking ones) and beetles (ladybug-ish looking ones) off with a glove and a foot for stomping. But then they went bananas in the second week of July. I could have stood out there picking bugs off 24/7 and kept finding more. Then all of a sudden, production really slowed down. It took some searching, but then I found a cucumber bigger than my hand hidden at the bottom. Which was huge for the size we had been picking. Plants think that if you aren’t harvesting, that you are letting a fruit mature for seeds. Pick those quick so your plant can get back to work. And it did seem to help until the plant just started wilting. I was not entirely sure if it was a mildew or wilt or just if the bugs had won the battle sucking the life out of my plant. But I knew we had lost the fight so we pulled them.
Oh another weird thing about cucumbers (as if insane choices and features and prickly hairs and bugs galore wasn’t enough) these things are capable of exuding what I will call “cucumber snot” where you cut the fruit off. I used pruning shears, snipped the cucumber off and then seconds later, a clear coagulated stringy fluid was hanging from the cut spot. I didn’t notice it early in the season, but started sometime in July. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, this was the first sign my plants had gotten a bacterial wilt. Oops! The striped cucumber beetles (which I’m certain I ignored not knowing what they were) bring this lovely present, and once you have it, kiss those plants goodbye. The bacterial wilt lives in their stomach and comes out in their poop (aka. frass) and gets into the plants. But the beetle larvae can survive in the soil in the winter and eat the roots next spring. Yikes! All I can do now is make sure not to plant cucumbers in the same spot next year and plan on protecting my cucumbers from bug beasties in the future. Now I know, and so do you. Did I get a picture? Of course not. But still … Cucumber snot = bacterial wilt probably transmitted from striped cucumber beetles that have babies who will eat the roots of your plants in the spring. Get rid of your plants … fast! You’re welcome.
All in all, growing these was fun and great with the kids to have such a crunchy, fresh and sweet cucumber fresh out of the garden every day. Definitely looking forward to planting more next year. I’ll leave you with a pertinent poetic humor excerpt while you contemplate all the cucumbers you are going to grow next summer.
“‘Tis not that Janet’s false, father,
‘Tis not that she’s unkind;
Though busy flatterers swarm around,
I know her constant mind.
‘Tis not her coldness, father,
That chills my labouring breast;
It’s that confounded cucumber
I’ve ate and can’t digest.”
-excerpt from “The Confession” by Richard Harris Barham
Apparently he didn’t get burpless cucumbers! 😀 Cheers!