Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is a widely cultivated plant and is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family. Other members of the family include watermelon and cantaloupe, squashes including summer squash, winter squash, courgette (zucchini) and pumpkin. Cucumbers have not received as much press as other vegetables in terms of their overall nutrient richness, but this long-beloved food provides us with a unique combination of conventional nutrients and phytonutrients.
Cucumbers are far more versatile than you might imagine. Their mild, slightly sweet flavor makes them the perfect palate for many dishes – Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, you name it!
Cucumbers are a creeping vine that bears fruits. From a biological standpoint, cucumbers are actually fruits, not vegetables. (Fruits are parts of flowering plants that come from the ovary.). There are three main varieties of cucumber: slicing, pickling, and seedless. The slicing types are long and usually grow to about 6 or 8 inches in length while the pickling types are shorter, reaching around 3 to 4 inches once mature. Seedless types of cucumbers arise through a natural process called parthenogenesis, cucumber plants can fruit without pollen. In the absence of pollen, seeds do not develop in the fruit. While some people have a personal preference for seedless cucumbers and melons, it’s worth remembering that cucumber seeds are rich source of phytonutrients that may not be found in anywhere close to the same amount in the skin or flesh.
There are now many bush or compact varieties of cucumbers available that are ideal for growing in pots. Cucumbers can grow in two different forms: vines and bushes. Vines need a fence or trellis to climb up on, while bushes are more compact and grow in one spot. If you have the space, vine cucumbers yield a higher harvest, but bush cucumbers are better suited for smaller spaces and grow well in pots.
Burpless’ cucumbers are sweeter and lighter in taste – bred to contain low or no cucurbitacin compounds that causes bitterness. It was originally believed cucurbitacin or ‘bitterness’ increases ‘burping’ after eating the fruits.
Sometimes “gherkin” is used to refer to small cucumbers and pickles but the term “gherkin” can also be used to describe a cucumber variety that comes from a different species of plant (Cucumis anguiria).
How to grow Cucumbers
Cucumbers are one of the most popular salad vegetables that we grow in our gardens and are one of the easiest plants you can grow as they require minimal effort on your part. Plant where they will get full sun but in hot climate afternoon shade is best. Cucumbers are planted in raised beds or in low mounds of soil (called ‘hills’), which improve drainage. Sow seeds, 2.5 cm deep in the raised soil, either directly in the position where the plants are intended to grow or for seedlings grown on a windowsill.
The Hardy Ridge variety is quite easy to grow in the open. Sow the seed in pots and keep on the window sill indoors until safe to plant outdoors. Cucumbers thrive on rich, fertile and well-drained soil. And one of the best ways to provide that is to add in generous amounts of compost at planting time. Homemade compost is the perfect soil additive for growing healthy cucumber plants. It’s rich, nutrient-filled humus provides a big boost for plants. But it also helps to retain moisture to the roots too.
Plant cucumbers as a catch crop between greens and other crops. When the little cucumbers are formed, pinch off the end of the vine. Outdoor cucumbers are very prolific, and of quite a different flavour from those grown in greenhouses. While warm temperatures are required for growing, cucumbers require a relatively short season–55 to 60 days from sowing to harvest.
Cucumber Growing Tips
- Select hardy, disease-resistant outdoor varieties – they are less fussy than greenhouse types
- Keep soil evenly moist to prevent the fruit from becoming bitter
- Mulch cucumber plants heavily
- A scoop of well-rotted manure gets cucumber seedlings off to a good start
- Avoid watering on leaves as cucumbers are prone to mildew
- harvest regulary to keep plants producing at peak levels
Anyone for Tzatziki?!