Growing cucumbers is easy, once you select the type you want to plant and determine how much room you can dedicate to them in your garden. While just about any type of cuke can be pickled, there are specific varieties available for this purpose; one popular variety for Georgia is Bush Pickle, a small compact cuke that matures from seed in around six weeks. Some cukes for other meal uses besides pickling include (bush types) Salad Bush Hybrid, Bush Crop and Fanfare, and (vine types) Burpless Hybrid, Straight Eight, and Sweet Slice, all of which mature in around 8-10 weeks.
Bush types of cucumbers grow low to the ground and spread out, taking more room in the garden; vine varieties can be trained on vertical supports made of string or wire or purchased support kits. Follow instructions on your seed packet if planting from seed, sow four or five seeds in small hills 4-5 feet apart, or seed them 6 inches apart in rows of 30 inches apart beneath trellises. When trellised plants are around 5 inches high; thin them to 12 inches apart. Of course you can start plants inside in peat pots, and plant the pots directly in the soil when all danger of frost is past. Or buy plants at your local plant nursery and follow the same procedures. And yes, you can even grow one or two cucumber plants in a large container with a small trellis.
Cucumbers can be grown in many types of soil as long as it’s loose, well drained, well watered, and well supplied with nutrients since these plants and their fruit grow so quickly. Work compost or ripe humus into the soil down to 10 inches prior to planting, when soil has reached at least 60 degrees. Once established, plants thrive best in full sun and at relatively high temperatures: 75-85 degrees. In some varieties the first cuke blossoms will drop off and not bear fruit; these are the male flowers. Subsequent blossoms will be both male and female and the female blossoms must be pollinated by insects (or by chemical means) to bear fruit. Some new seed varieties such as General Lee and Calypso have only/mostly female blooms and they tend to bear fruit earlier with a heavier yield.
Control weeds, insects and disease on cucumber plants by mulching them with newspaper covering the ground around each plant, and then covering the paper with straw or bark to keep moisture in and form a barrier from mildew, mites and other garden challengers. Once plants are established these are less of an issue, so take more care early on. And avoid insecticides when pollinators are working the flowers.
Cucumbers should be harvested based on their size (note on your seed packet how large the variety will become) as they taste best when picked before full maturity. If allowed to ripen to yellow they acquire a bitter taste. Pickling varieties should be picked before their internal seeds mature and become hard. If you’re not going to eat or pickle them immediately, refrigerate picked cucumbers in the refrigerator to keep them crisp and fresh.
I’ve experimented with many cucumber recipes, but my favorite is this soothing summer side dish my Lithuanian grandmother used to make for me with fresh veggies from her backyard garden in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: cukes sliced very thin (peeled or not), fresh chopped scallions, a few drops of white vinegar to taste and gobs of icy cold sour cream, all mixed together and served with a beef or pork dish, on the side, or on top of baked or mashed potatoes.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.