A Mini Garden Course On Growing Great Cucumbers

  Cucumbers or Cucurbits.  Don't you just love the way those "U" sounds roll off your tongue. and then abruptly stop cold with a hard "t" sound? Whoever spent his life naming plants must have a lot of time on his hands to come up with this one.

And, however long it took to name this family of plants, they do comprise a rather large section of our favourite garden vegetables. How could we get through the summer without Cucumis sativus (cucumbers), Cucumis melo (melons) and Citrullus lanatus (watermelon), not to mention Cucurbita sp. (squash).

Cucumber Rules

Being one happy family, a few simple rules apply to growing these plants.


Gotta love cucumbers and pickles

To begin with, they love a rich and loose soil. This is one plant that responds well to ample applications of compost - you can hardly give it enough. Dig several shovels full into the soil before planting each plant or hill.

Even though this family requires deep and regular waterings, it has to be grown on well-drained soils.

Do not bother planting it on wet ground or clay as the water logged nature of these soils will stunt the plant growth. I once thought I would beat the system and planted all the melons and cucumbers in a very low section of ground we had. I reasoned that any rain would stay there and save us the work of lugging water to the garden.

The album picture of the flowers and vines under 12 inches of water (it was a wet July that year) is one of my favourite memories of my early gardening years.

Soil pH

Cucumbers grow best when the pH of the soil is up around 7.0. This means that for best results, do not add acidifying material such as peat moss to the cucumber patch.


One thing cucumbers adore is high temperatures for both germination and growing on. Soil temperatures for germination should be at least 65F while 80F is optimum.

This means that cucurbits will benefit from a late planting to allow the garden time to warm up. Growing on temperatures range from 65F-75F for most of the family with the exception of watermelons who prefer the warmer temperatures of 70F - 85F. Again, do not bother planting these tender plants outside if day and night temperatures are not warm enough to support their growth. You are simply wasting seed or plants.

Sow Seeds

Sow your own seeds and do not bother with the expense and trouble of purchasing started plants at a greenhouse. The packaged seed will stay viable (if kept cool and dry) for 3-5 years so one package will last several gardening seasons.

If planted at the same depth as the width of the seed and kept constantly moist, viable seed will germinate between 3-10 days. Once it has germinated, water deeply twice a week.

Seed Soaking and Sowing Evaluation

A head-start can be obtained by soaking the seed overnight between two layers of paper towel - the seed coats will begin to swell in the warmth and moisture and can then be planted outdoors.

I have experimented with transplanting most cucurbit seeds - from cucumbers to watermelons and the only one I would recommend starting indoors before the season starts is the watermelons and possibly the muskmelons.

All other squash and cucumbers do much better when directly sown in the garden rather than transplanted as purchased plants. The trick is in not planting them too deeply and keeping them good and moist (water the seedling beds every day) until they pop out of the ground.


Once they start to grow, it is quite necessary to maintain the feeding, the heat and the watering. If you have fed them adequate compost to start off the season, you are likely not going to have to worry about any other food for the remainder of the season.

Generous gardeners use a mid summer boost of compost or liquid food to give their plants a pick-me-up to boost yields. Cool June nights will play havoc on tender blossoms and pollination so if the weather turns cool, throw a damp sheet or cardboard box over the plants in an attempt to trap the earth's heat around the young plants.

As cucurbit fruit is mostly water - ensuring a steady supply is critical to success. Either soak thoroughly with the hose twice a week or install the upside-down pop bottles next to the main stem as a leaking reservoir.

A few last hints before we run out of space. Most of the problems we'll see with this crop involve the cucumber beetle or flea beetle and these pests are easily knocked down with a light dusting of Rotenone.

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Harvest by using a knife to cut off the fruit as any bending of the stem will damage the plant nutrient transport mechanism and will reduce further growth and yields.

Do not worry if you see the first blossoms falling off - most of these are male blossoms and will not produce fruit anyway. The males always come before the females but it is the females that do the work.

Does that sound familiar? :-)

Garlic Dill Pickle Recipe

I'm not saying this was a popular item when my kids were small. I'm saying it's incredibly popular even now my kids are grown up with children of their own. A jar of home made garlic dill pickles has a half-life that's measured in minutes when my gang opens one.

  • 8 pounds small pickling cucumbers. We never had enough small ones so we'd slice the bigger ones lengthwise to give us slightly smaller cucumbers and slow down the rate of consumption (not that this ever slowed my kids down).

  • 4 cups water

  • 4 cups distilled white vinegar

  • 3/4 cup white sugar

  • 1/2 cup pickling salt

  • Optional to add to the vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pickling spice (wrap in cheesecloth so it only flavors the vinegar and isn't added to the jars) Half dozen peppercorns (same as above)
  • 7 1-quart canning jars with lids and rings

  • 7 heads fresh dill

  • 1-2 cloves garlic * per jar ** or more to taste. Peel the garlic.

  • Directions

  • Place cucumbers in a large pot and cover with very cold water. Let them sit for at least 2 hours but not much longer or they'll start to get mushy and lose crispness.

  • (Note if you're after super crunchy pickles, you can place your cucumbers on a large platter, cover with salt and a cloth. Leave this in the refrigerator overnight. The salt is supposed to remove some of the water from the cucumber. We never did this - too much work.)

  • Drain and dry.

  • Put the water, vinegar, sugar, pickling salt, and pickling spice into a pot.

  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.

  • Sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water (normally this is at least a 5 minute boiling).

  • Pack cucumbers tightly into the hot, sterilized jars. Leave about a half-inch space at the top (you're going to cover them all with the juice)

  • Put 1 dill head and 1-2 clove of garlic into each jar.

  • Pour the hot pickling liquid into the jars within 1/4 inch of the top rim.

  • Wipe the rims of the jars with paper towel or soft cloth to remove food residue.

  • Put the tops on.

  • Take a pot large enough to cover the jars. Fill about halfway with hot water.

  • We use a large canning pot with a rack so we can lift the jars out of the boiling water without having to bump them all together (bumping when they're hot is dangerous to you - breaking jars of hot liquid isn't a good idea) Get yourself a canning setup. :-)

  • Gently lower the rack into the canning pot.

  • Add boiling water to at least one inch above the jars.

  • Bring water back to a high boil. Boil for five minutes. (Note, different recipes call for different times to boil

  • Lift the rack and "carefully" remove the jars with a jar-holder. (They're boiling hot so be careful)

  • Let sit until cool where they won't be knocked about.

  • Test the lids for being sealed. If they haven't sealed, put them in the frig (after they're cool) let eat as you want a pickle. It's better if you can wait a week before eating them as the flavors will have settled in and won't be so "pickly/vinegary"

  • **Don't try to save any pickles that haven't sealed properly ***

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