If you’re looking for a delicious vegetable, garden grown cucumbers are hard to beat, just like home grown tomatoes are the best. Growing cucumbers in Alberta can be difficult, so it’s important to ensure you take proper care of your cucumbers. This water-filled gourd is cool and refreshing on a hot summer day or any other day, for that matter, so follow my easy tips to grow the best cucumbers!
What’s the trick to growing fresh cucumbers in Alberta?
Well, read on and I’ll share where to grow cucumbers, when the best time is to plant cucumbers, and how to water & fertilize cucumbers to maximize their production.
History of Cucumbers
Cucumbers are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family and they share family ties with watermelon, pumpkin, squash, and muskmelon. Cucumbers are native to India and have been cultivated as a food for over 3000 years. They are spoken of in the Bible and in Greek and Roman literature.
Cucumbers migrated to Europe with the explorers of the 15th century and Christopher Columbus is given the credit for taking them to the New World of North America. From there the breeding began to make this originally bitter fruit to a sweeter, more palatable table item.
Understanding the Cucumber
Are Cucumbers a Fruit or a Vegetable?
Let’s get this out of the way. Whether cucumbers are a fruit or a vegetable is confusing to most of us. Here’s the scoop on cucumber classification:
Cucumbers are a member of the gourd family. Botanically, cucumbers are a fruit because they develop from a flower and seeds develop in the resulting fruit.
But why do we think cucumbers are vegetables?
I think the confusion comes from this: Because cucumbers aren’t sweet like most fruits such as berries or bananas, and because we tend to use them in more of a savoury sense such as cucumber sandwiches or Greek salad, we often think of cucumbers as a veggie.
What are the kinds of cucumbers?
Cucumbers are divided into slicing or pickling cucumbers.
- Pickling cucumbers are small and up to about 10 cm (4″) in length and are used mostly for dill pickles. They are also eaten raw.
- Slicing cucumbers are longer, 15cm (6″) and longer. Slicing cucumbers are most often sliced, eaten raw, and used in most cooking. They are also pickled, like in sweeter bread & butter types.
Where to Grow Cucumbers
Being that cucumbers are from India (think tropics), cucumbers like to grow in very warm, even hot, conditions. For market gardeners, cucumbers are called ‘a tender crop’. Most cucumber failures for the home gardener are due to the growing conditions being too cold. Sudden, uneven temperatures or temperature swings can cause the fruit to taste bitter, or worst case, cause the plant to die.
Cucumbers not only have no tolerance for frost whatsoever, but night time temperatures below 10 C will send them spiralling. Don’t plant cucumbers outdoors unless the daytime temperatures are consistently 18 C (65 F) or above. Temperatures below this will not only halt their growth, but it will have a negative impact on the taste of their fruit. Cucumber seed won’t even germinate below 10 C (50 F).
Grow cucumbers in a warm location with at least 6-8 hours of sunshine. Eight hours of sun or more is an optimal weather condition for growing cucumbers.
How to Start a Cucumber Seed
Start cucumber seeds indoors 3 weeks before you plan to transition them outdoors. The middle of June is usually a safe bet for avoiding frost in the Edmonton area, so seed them indoors by the middle of May.
Cucumbers grow best in pots where their roots will stay toasty warm. Cucumbers don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so seeding them directly into the pot, or using a peat pot like a Jiffy 7, will protect the roots from transplant shock. Pick a pot with a diameter of at least 30-45 cm (12-18″) across the top. The advantage to growing cucumbers in pots is that if the weather turns cold, you can move them indoors.
Cucumbers are great candidates for growing in the warmth of a greenhouse. If you have a small greenhouse, that is an ideal spot to grow them.
If you are growing your cucumbers outdoors, don’t be in a rush. Wait until the threat of frost has passed (usually around the middle of June) and the soil has warmed up – cucumber seeds won’t germinate in soil temperatures below 10 C. If you are transplanting, wait until the middle of June and watch them for transplant shock. Transplant the young cucumbers when they have 1 or 2 true leaves. You may need to protect them from the sun for a few days as they adjust to their new environment.
How to Water & Fertilize Cucumbers
Cucumbers have different water requirements as they grow. Keep in mind that cucumbers have shallow, fibrous roots and that cucumbers are sensitive to getting dried out at any stage.
Grow cucumbers in a high quality, water retentive, and well draining soil that has plenty of organic matter. Cucumbers hate to have their roots sitting in soggy wet soil, hence the need for quality soil with good drainage. If cucumbers get too wet and cold, they will become susceptible to fungal diseases.
When cucumbers are at both the early growth seedling stage and flowering stage, their water requirements are low and the ability for their roots to take up water is limited. Make sure to monitor them for overwatering, not just underwatering.
Ensuring optimal water supply at the fruiting stage, where they have already flowered and they are developing and growing the actual cucumber fruit, is very important. Watch to neither overwater nor underwater at this stage. Cucumbers like consistency, so water cucumbers regularly to keep them evenly moist, but not wet. Not getting enough water will limit their growth and irregular or uneven watering can cause the fruit to taste bitter.
What is the best fertilizer for cucumbers?
Mulch is a great friend to cucumbers. Add a 7 cm (3″) layer of mulch on the top of the soil either in a pot or in the ground extended out around the base of the cucumber plant about 30 cm (12″) but not touching the stem to keep it from rotting. This will maintain the roots at a cooler temperature and help the soil retain moisture. Any organic mulch – that is a mix of chopped leaves, stems, and bark – will work well here.
Cucumbers are heavy feeders. A balanced fertilizer like 20-20-20 or 10-10-10 will meet its needs. If you would prefer an organic fertilizer, look for Nitrogen (N) – Phosphorous (P) – Potassium (K) sequences that are fairly even, like a 5-7-6 or combination similar to this. Fertilize cucumbers regularly every 2 weeks.
Cucumber vines can easily grow to 2.5 m (8 feet) or longer. Support them on trellises or tomato cages by gently winding them up and around the support. Use velcro tape near leaf nodes to gently attach them to prevent the stems from folding over or kinking. Give a little space between the vine and the trellis for the vine to expand as it grows.
Concluding on Cucumbers
Cucumbers are refreshing and revitalizing on a hot summer day, and cucumber plants love hot summer days. They are definitely worth the effort of growing in your own warm, sunny garden space. There’s nothing like a fresh juicy cucumber right off the vine!
© Sharon Wallish Murphy, Gardening with Sharon