When I think of growing cucumbers, my mind wanders to variations of gazpacho – the spicy, cold soup, brightened by their presence. My wife, she enjoys their crisp, clean addition to a salad or noodle dish, while my neighbor is always quick to grab a few from our garden bounty to make us up a batch of cucumber mojitos.
The point is, cucumbers are a versatile, easy to grow vegetable, which deserve space in your backyard garden – and that’s without even mentioning all the pickling you can do too!
Growing cucumbers is easier than you’d think, and we’re going to show you how and why you should do it.
How to Plant Cucumbers
The rules of growing cucumbers are pretty straight-forward, follow these simple steps and you’ll find growing cucumbers is fun and easy:
- Pick a location that gets a lot of sun, cukes thrive in the heat and are very sensitive to cold
- Sow seeds directly, but not until after the soil has warmed to 65-90 degrees. Starting indoors and transplanting is not a great choice, cucumber roots don’t like to be disturbed.
- Cucumbers are heavy nitrogen feeders, amend the soil prior to planting with an all-purpose organic fertilizer and compost. Continue with a fertilizer high in nitrogen once a month during the growing season
- Build small hills and place 4-6 cucumber seeds per hill at approximately ½” depth. Hills should be 3 feet apart in all directions.
- Consistent and plentiful water is needed, if it’s too dry, fruit will taste bitter
- Once the seeds are up and growing and have three leaves, thin to 2 plants per hill
- For straighter, more disease resistant cucumbers, support the vines with a trellis. A tomato cage will work great, or a lean-to structure like the one pictured below.
The great thing about cucumbers is, keep them picked and they’ll keep growing more cucumbers! Even better, stagger your plantings a month apart, and you’ll have a steady stream of cucumbers throughout the season.
One plant can yield upwards of 10-20 cucumbers!
We usually plant in late May, then come back with another variety in late June and then start another fall crop, like the fast growing Excelsior (50 days), in late July.
Does Growing Cucumbers fit The Formula
As a weekend farmer you are not blessed with unlimited time, space and energy, therefore every decision on what you plant must fit within your personal constraints. We ask ourselves these three questions when space planning our garden, and we think they’re a useful analysis for you too:
- How much space does this plant take up?
- Is it cost-effective?
- Do we like to eat it and is it healthy?
We rank each plant 1-5 in the above categories (5 being the best) to help us decide what makes the cut in our backyard garden space. Let’s run through this exercise with growing cucumbers:
Cucumbers are a vining plant which if not trained vertically will spread a long distance (upwards of 4 feet) and can inhibit the growth of surrounding plants. But, if properly trellised, they grow upwards and their garden profile is much more manageable.
I like to grow my cucumbers at a 45 degree angle, structuring a trellis (see picture above) that creates a shady microclimate underneath for other green leafy vegetables that need some protection from the sun. In this form of companion planting, we really maximize the space.
Considering organic cucumbers at the market are about $1.00 each, we’ve got ourselves a winner in the wallet. The only downside is that they are heavy feeders, really enjoying a nitrogen supplement throughout the season. It’s not that organic fertilizer is all that expensive, it’s just an additional cost you have to equate into growing cucumbers.
Consider me amongst the crowd that doubted the health benefits of the watery cucumber, but in researching the cylindrical marvel it turns out to be a nutrient packed powerhouse! High in fiber, cancer fighting polyphenols, and good for your brain, heart and digestive system, cucumbers are more than just a crisp additive to meals, they are a big part of a healthy existence.
Turns out growing cucumbers is fun and eating them is really good for you!
Cucumbers is a winner in our system, and since our kids love them, growing cucumbers is a no-brainer for this family.
Companion Plants for Cucumbers
Companion planting often refers to which plants help each other reach their maximum potential by warding off pests or contributing to the beneficial chemical composition of the soil. With cucumbers, I believe their best pairing comes from the physical attributes of the plant itself.
Cucumbers, as a climbing vine, need trellis support, which if organized correctly in your garden space, can create a shady microclimate for other plants in your garden.
For example, if you create a simple lean-to trellis structure up against your fence line, as we show in the picture above, you can then grow less heat-tolerant vegetables, like lettuces, kale and chard, in the shade of your growing cucumber plants.
This is space planning and companion planting, at its best!
As for techniques that can help ward off the infamous cucumber beetle, Marigolds planted nearby as well as wood ashes scattered around the base, have been known to help discourage the appearance of these nasty buggers.
Growing Cucumbers in Containers
Think of cucumbers in your garden and you immediately envision a sprawling, climbing vine, taking up more space than any pot could contain. If this is your only vision of cucumbers, you’d be wrong.
There are numerous petite varieties that when given just the right amount of support can supply you with a season full of cucumbers from your simple container garden. Growing cucumbers has never been easier!
Here are a few varieties that will work well in containers:
- Mini Munch
- Patio Snacker
- Northern Pickling
- Bush Pickle
- Mexican Sour Gherkin
- Miniature White
Cucumber Recipes That Will Rock Your Senses
What’s the use of growing cucumbers if you don’t know how to use them?! Break free of just slicing them in salads or pickling them for sandwiches, and embrace these bigger and better plans:
- Sesame Ginger and Cucumber Soba Noodles: Asian flavors, often sweet and spicy, meld incredible well with cucumbers which add a crispy an clean texture to this dish from Cookie and Kate.
- Baked Cucumbers and Root Vegetables:I never would have thought to bake cucumbers but this french inspired recipe has changed my mind.
- Cucumber Salad with Smashed Ginger and Garlic: Sure a cucumber salad doens’t sound ground-breaking, but when it comes from famed London chef Yotam Ottolenghi you know it will pack some surprise
- Gazpacho: Need I say more? The Oh She Glows cookbook has a great version, but there are hundreds of variations out there you should try.
- Cucumber Mojito: Nothing beats it on a summer day…of course, you’ll have to grow some mint too.