Cucumbers are one of the most versatile crops to grow for the home gardener. Not only are they great for eating fresh – they are the perfect ingredient for all kinds of salads and relish trays.  And then of course – they are the star of the garden when it comes to making homemade pickles!  (We included links at the end of the article to a few of our favorite!)

A young cucumber plant pokes through the soil
A young cucumber plant pokes through the soil

Although you can always find a good supply at your local grocery store – there is one more reason that many choose to grow their own. Commercially grown cucumbers are one of the most highly sprayed pesticide crops on the market – and if you want to know what is on them, or more importantly, what is not – there is no better way than to grow them in your own backyard!

Here are some tips for growing your own banner crop of cucumbers this year:

The Soil and Planting. The key to growing great cucumbers

To grow best, cucumbers should be located in a sunny area, and need rich, fertile and well-drained soil. Adding generous amounts of compost when planting is a big key to helping your plants thrive – and cucumber plants do well when mulched early on to control fluctuations of soil temperature, and to keep soil borne diseased from splashing on the leaves.

As for how to plant – you have a lot of options when it comes to cucumbers. You can plant them in everything from rows, mounds, or containers – with the key being providing them the proper space and support they need in each environment.

Garlic dill pickle chunks going into the jar
Garlic dill pickle chunks going into the jar

Cucumbers grown in rows should be spaced out about 3 to 6 feet apart to allow the vines room to fill in. When planting in mounds – you can put two to three seedling in a 4 to 6 inch hill and let the cucumbers vine out.  You can even grow them in containers and let them sprawl down and over – or provide a trellis for them to attach to. No matter how you plant – keep your cucumbers picked – if loaded with too much fruit – they will stop putting out new blooms.

As for when to plant – you want to seed directly into the soil a few weeks before your last frost, or if you live in an area with a short growing season – you can start them indoors a few weeks before planting, and then move outside after threat of frost.  For us, we have found it is better to grow from seed – they just seem to establish better than transplants.

Types of Cucumbers

There are basically two main variations of cucumbers – pickling and slicing, and two style of plants – vining and bush. Bush varieties tend to stay more compact, while vining types will meander wherever trained.

Be careful not to trample vines when picking produce such as cucumbers and zucchini
Be careful not to trample vines when picking produce such as cucumbers and zucchini

Pickling cucumbers tend to be smaller, have less of a seed core, and as the name implies, are the perfect choice when making all kinds of delicious pickles!  Slicing cucumbers tend to be larger and longer – and are great for eating fresh or in salads.

Some of our favorite heirloom varieties to grow : Boston Pickling cucumber for pickles. For a multi purpose eating and canning cucumber – we love the Straight 8 cucumber.

Fending off Pests

Pests can be a problem for cucumbers – especially the dreaded cucumber beetle. Using a row cover or row netting early in the season can help get your plants off to a good start – although you will need to remove when the plants begin flowering to allow for pollination.

Home made relish - another reason to grow cucumbers!
Home made relish – another reason to grow cucumbers!

In addition – try to plant them in different areas each season to lessen the likelihood of soil and pest infestation.

One final trick and one we are trying this year is to plant a winter squash nearby as a sacrificial plant. Cucumber beetles prefer the leaves of the winter squash plants – and it is said if you plant them nearby they will leave your cucumbers alone.  Hey – it’s worth a shot! πŸ™‚  Now get ready to grow some great cucumbers this year! As for those pickle recipes – here are a few of our favorite:

Garlic Dill Pickles

Overnight Garlic Pickles

Pickle Relish

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Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!

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