Best practices: Cucumber magic

Cucumbers are related to both the squash and melon families, they are native to warmer Northeast Africa and Middle East regions. In the days before carbonated beverages, vendors would sell juicy sweet cucumbers as a cool and refreshing treat in the open air markets and bazarres. Times have changed and the cool refreshing cucumber has been banished to the salad, pickle or sandwich realm.

I know that here at the farm when we used to grow lots of veggies and would be out in the hot sun for many hours at a time, we would relish eating the juicy cukes out in the fields where we stood. Myself, I’m very partial to the Suyo Long Burpless asian heirloom cukes.

We strongly recommend waiting until the end of the first week in June before transplanting cukes into the garden. (This advise is for New England and higher elevation growers.) If you put them out before it has warmed sufficiently, you will shock them and damage overall productivity. Cucumbers require higher soil fertility and temperatures like their cousins. They also require adequate soil moisture to perform to their full potential. Aged compost or well-rotted manure must be added to the soil prior to planting. We plant on black plastic mulch which helps warm the soil, retain moisture and suppress weed competition. Cukes benefit greatly from drip watering and require about an inch of rainfall/water per week, especially when hot.

Powdery mildew is a constant problem with cucumbers, as are Striped Cucumber Beetles. There are many modern varieties which are very resistant to mildew. They are usually noted as PMT or PMR in seed catalogs. We grow many of these varieties. We recommend a preventative spraying regimen beginning just 2 days after transplant. One for the insects and one for the mildew. I’ve found that once the insects or mildew become established, it’s incredibly difficult to reverse the damage afterwards. The beetles spread viruses which will reduce overall productivity or kill the vines. Floating row covers can be very effective at reducing insect infestation. Once vines begin to bloom prolifically, care should be taken to remove the row cover once weekly on a sunny day to allow pollinators access to the blossoms. Cukes love heat and putting them out when it is still too cool will damage productivity.

Top Recommendations: Fertile, moisture retentive soils are best. Add compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Black plastic mulch warms the soil and suppresses weeds. Early, preventative spraying reduces the chances of insect damage and powdery mildew infection. Trellis for straighter cleaner fruits. Use floating row cover to protect plants from insects. Pick often to maintain peak productivity.

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