Although they are closely related to other gourds like squashes and courgettes there is really nothing quite like a cucumber. The word itself brings instantly to mind a sense of cool freshness with a taste, smell and watery texture that is so distinct and memorable.
Cucumber makes a welcome addition to tossed salads during the summer months, they can be used to make cucumber lemonade, and of course, taste amazing on a tuna sandwich! Some people like to just eat them solo.
Cucumbers are also a health food. They contain components that reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, encourage weight loss and are packed full of B vitamins. They can even bring down a fever by cooling the body. These elongated fruits also have anti-inflammatory properties which is why they are used on the eyes during facial treatments.
If bought from supermarkets they may not have these beneficial properties because of the factory-like way in which they are grown. They are also waxed and wrapped in plastic, which won’t do you any good. So you are far better off growing you own, and home grown ones come with a superior taste.
Let’s take a look at some different types of cucumber you can cultivate:
Cucumbers come in either indoor or outdoor varieties. They are used for similar culinary purposes but the method for growing each type is a little different. It is up for debate which tastes nicer.
Indoor or ‘greenhouse’ cucumbers like to be grown in warm, humid environments like greenhouses and conservatories. They like to climb and grow very long fruits with smooth skin like the cucumbers we buy in supermarkets. Most won’t survive outside for long in Britain but they don’t need to be pollinated order to produce fruit.
Below are some good indoor cucumber cultivars:
This variety puts out bags of cumbers but they are quite small. The plants are strong, and can even grow outdoors but they won’t do very well there.
Superbel is a high-yield, light-coloured indoor variety with sweet fruits and excellent disease resistance.
Femspot creates dark-coloured fruits which are long and sweet. It has ribs even though it is an indoor variety.
Outdoor or ‘ridge’ cucumbers can be grown outdoors in the UK climate. However, they do not relish the cold so will only grow during the warmest months. Their fruits are much stubbier than indoor varieties with skin that has little bumps and ridges all over it. Outdoor types need to be pollinated by insects.
Here are some good outdoor cucumber varieties:
A well-known and reliable outdoor cucumber with short dark fruits. Marketmore has a good yield and trails extensively along the ground.
Burpless Tasty Green
Another outdoor favourite, this variety grows fruits that are quite long for an outdoor cucumber, and with a texture that is comparable to indoor types. It is a climber so it will need some support.
A very odd outdoor cultivar that looks like an apple rather than a cucumber. It is round, yellow and very juicy. Crystal apples trail along the ground like many other outdoor types.
Cucumbers are grown from seed. If you are growing your cucumbers indoors then you should sow them in early springtime. Outdoor varieties should be sown towards the back end of spring. Whichever type you go for should be started off in pots and propagators.
Fill a small plant pot with good quality seed compost and make a little 2cm (1/2”) hole with a pencil. Push a cucumber seed into the hole. You should lay the seeds on their side when you push them in.
Water your seed pots and place them inside a propagator. When the seedlings begin to grow you should stake them with a little piece of cane.
Planting (In the Ground)
Indoor cucumber seedlings should be ready to be moved from the propagator by May. You obviously can’t plant them in the ground but you will need to put them in a bigger pot or a grow bag.
If using a grow bag then slit open two holes and transplant two cucumbers into each bag. If using plant pots then transplant one cucumber to a pot filled with good compost. Water your plants in well and put them in a good spot in your greenhouse with plenty of room. Stake with a long garden cane.
Outdoor cucumber seedlings can be moved from the propagator by mid-June if the weather is favourable. They should be planted out into a bed that has been previously manured.
Remove all weeds, dig the bed to a fine consistency and rake flat. Give the plants plenty of space – they should be about 1m (3’) apart. Make sure the roots are sitting just under the soil with the full stem poking out. Water in at the base.
Like all gourds, cucumbers love water, so keep them moist especially when they have fruit on the branch. Feed the plants with potash feed every few weeks; if you don’t want to use bought chemical products then take actual ash from your allotment bonfire and mix it up with rainwater.
Male flowers must be removed from indoor varieties to stop the fruit turning bitter. You can easily identify male flowers because they don’t have a mini-cucumber at the bottom like the female ones. You should allow both kinds of flowers to remain on the plant for outdoor varieties so that insects can pollinate them.
If climbing varieties are forced to climb they will produce more fruit. Encourage them by every so often wrapping their main shoots around their stakes. Pinch off the tips of these main shoots when they reach about 1.8 meters (6’) tall and they will produce side-shoots which will grow more cucumbers.
You can start cutting your cucumbers around 12 weeks after first planting them. They will be ready when the flower on the end dies and they start swelling. Leave them on the stalk for a while to get bigger, but the longer you leave them the more bitter and woody they will taste. So it is probably best to gather them when they are about 20cm (8”) long. Just slice each one off with a knife and the plant should produce more.
Cucumbers will stop producing and die back when the weather turns cold. Outdoor types are usually done by the middle of September, while indoor types can go on for another month. When the plants have finished uproot them and add them to your compost heap.
Now go ahead and plant some champion cucumbers for this summer!