Grow Your Own Outdoor Cucumbers
Thanks to modern breeding the outdoor cucumber is no longer a short, warty vegetable. In length and smoothness of skin it can now compete with the more elegant greenhouse cucumber. Traditionally grown on raised beds (or ridges) outdoor cucumbers were referred to as ridge cucumbers, the quality and size of which could only be improved by growing them under glass frames. The modern outdoor cucumber varieties are grown on flat ground and need no glass. Climbers by nature, they can be allowed to trail over the ground or trained up frames or netting.
How to Grow Outdoor CucumbersTo grow outdoor cucumbers choose rich, well-drained soil in a sheltered position. The roots of cucumber seedlings should not be disturbed too much so it is better to sow the seeds directly into the soil. About two weeks before sowing the seeds prepare a number of small beds measuring about 12 inches by 12 inches and at least 18 inches apart. Dig out the soil and mix it with some well-rotted manure. Refill the beds with this soil and 2 weeks later plant 3 seeds, 1 inch deep in each bed. Do this in late May to early June. To get some idea of how many small beds to prepare it is worth knowing that the average cucumber plant should yield about 12 cucumbers.
Cover the seeds with a cloche. They should then germinate in about 10 days. When the first seedlings grow their first two true leaves weed out weaker seedlings leaving just one strong seedling growing.
If you decide to grow the seeds indoors and transplant them outdoors later, sow them one seed per pot and grow at about 26 degrees C. Harden off and plant out, disturbing the roots as little as possible. Water in well.
When the plants have developed seven leaves, pinch out the growing tips. Side shoots will then develop which can ramble across the soil or be trained up a trellis or net. Non-flower bearing shoots should be pinched out at the seventh leaf.
A mulch of black polythene helps to raise the soil temperature, keep weeds at bay and keep the soil moist.
Never water the plants from above. Water around the plants keeping the soil moist. If the weather is exceptionally dry the plants can be lightly misted with water.
Outdoor cucumbers have to be fertilized so the male flowers must be left on the plant. It is a good idea to feed the cucumber plants with a liquid tomato feed when the first small cucumbers have begun to develop.
Cut the cucumbers with a sharp knife (this will probably be in early August) when they are about 8 inches long. Don't try to grow extra long cucumbers as this will discourage continued fruiting.
Outdoor cucumbers are not particularly easy to grow and have a fairly short season as they are susceptible to frost. There are plenty of interesting varieties ranging from the long, so-called 'burpless' ones to the small round 'apple' varieties. They are fairly versatile in the kitchen and are of course invaluable for a traditional summer salad.