Cucumbers can be quite temperamental to grow from seed, they need warmth to germinate and careful watering to avoid rotting off at the stem base.
As the plant grows support is required, along with regular feeding and watering. They can be basically split in to two groups, greenhouse Cucumbers and outdoor Cucumbers.
Greenhouse Cucumber varieties can be sub divided into traditional and ‘all female’ kinds. The traditional kind such as Telegraph have both male and female flowers on each plant, the female flower produces the cucumber. The male flowers need to be removed before pollination takes place, other wise the resulting fruit is very bitter and not recommended for eating. These varieties have more or less been confined to the exhibitor who wants the long slender, dark green fruits of the older varieties.
The modern F1 hybrid, All female varieties are the kind most allotment gardeners grow. As the name suggests this type of cucumber has been bred to produce only the fruit bearing female flowers and also tends to be more disease resistant than the traditional varieties. One thing to remember is that if the plant becomes stressed in any way, through an extreme in temperature or watering, it may still produce the odd male flower that needs to be removed, before any pollination can take place.
Outdoor cucumbers used to be the poor relation of the family, short, spiny tough skinned fruits, not half as appealing as the greenhouse grown ones. Today though breeders have come along way to achieving an outdoor cucumber that can rival the hot house varieties. This type of cucumber has both male and female flowers that are needed to produce fruit.
Sowing Cucumber seeds
Cucumbers need warmth to germinate, around 20°C, a heated greenhouse or indoors is ideal. In a cold greenhouse it is better to delay sowing than risk the loss of the plants to the cold and damp.
In my experience Cucumber seedlings quite often become quite long and drawn as they grow, so for this reason I sow the seeds ½ inch (25mm) deep, singularly in a 3inch (75mm) pot filled to ⅓ depth. As they grow I gradually fill the pot with damp compost up to the seed leaves.
Care needs to be taken with watering to avoid the seedling ‘rotting off’, this is when the stem turns brown and rots at its base. To avoid this I always water the pot from the bottom, by standing in a shallow tray with an inch of water for a few minutes.
The young Cucumber plants soon develop quite an extensive root system, to avoid any check to growth it is often necessary to transfer the plants to a larger pot before they are planted in to their final growing position.
Avoid over potting the Cucumber,as this can lead to over watering, and the plant rotting off.
I plant out at the 3 to 4 leaf stage when all risk of frost has gone.
The greenhouse Cucumbers go in to large tubs or buckets filled with multi purpose compost. In the center of the growing container I sink a 6 inch (150mm) bottomless pot so it protrudes 3 inch (75mm), this pot is where the Cucumber is planted.
This is my version of ring culture for Cucumbers, all watering and feeding is done in to the outer larger tub/bucket, minimizing the chances of the stem of the plant rotting.
For outdoor Cucumbers I prepare a large planting hole by half filling with well rotted garden compost, and return the soil to form a quite pronounced mound. Planting into the top of the mound aids water drain away from the stem.
Whist Cucumbers will readily grow and fruit along the ground, this leaves the crop vulnerable to all manner of pest, training the plants up supports keeps the fruit cleaner and reduces this risk.
Cucumbers produce short tendrils that will curl around most supports, aiding the task of growing the plant upwards.
My preferred method of training is home made netting, the growing Cucumber plant can be threaded through and around the netting, giving extra support for the heavy crop.
Feeding and Watering Cucumbers
Cucumbers need to be kept moist but not over watered as this can cause the fruits to abort. For feeding I prefer a high Nitrogen feed, such as vita-feed 301. Feed is applied once a week when the plant starts to fruit. I find that this gives a strong vigorous plant, a good crop and none of the bitter taste that a high Potash (tomato food) can sometimes give.