(Species: Cucumis sativus - Family: Cucurbitaceae)
Cucumber and its origins
The first cucumber originated in India and parts of the Middle East.
They are mentioned in one of the earliest recorded works of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian script dating back to around 2500BC. Cucumbers were first grown in parts of Europe over 3,000 years later and were not cultivated in North America until the 16th century.
The cucumber belongs to the gourd family, which includes courgette, squash and pumpkin. The plant itself is a trailing vine with pretty, small yellow papery flowers that appear in summer, before the cylindrical green fruits.
These can vary in length and thickness from cigar size to around 60cm.
Cucumbers thrive in warm climates. In cooler temperate climates, grow cucumbers in greenhouses and under glass. Nowadays, however, excellent new varieties have been grown for outdoor cultivation in cooler conditions. These mature and are flavourful even in a disappointing summer.
How to plant:
The cucumber needs fertile soil, moisture and warmth to produce the best harvests. Prepare the soil in advance and add plenty of organic matter before planting or grow in generous containers filled with good quality soil-based compost.
Cucumbers can be grown from seed in late winter or early spring or bought as young plants in spring or early summer, ready to be planted out or potted on.
If starting from seed in a greenhouse, temperature needs to be a constant 21oC. Sowing in a heated greenhouse can take place in late winter and early spring or alternatively during mid to late spring in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame.
Sow each seed in individual holes and on its side to prevent it from rotting. Grow cucumber in small pots filled with multi-purpose compost, keeping the compost moist. When the first true leaves have fully opened, transfer to a 13cm pot.
For outdoor varieties, sow three seeds per small pot in late spring, or in warm, sunny gardens, sow the seeds directly, approximately 2cms deep. Cut back the new growth and thin to the strongest seedling. When growing cucumbers in pots, plant out when the plant has a strong, firm rootball.
The vines are strong and fast-growing, so need adequate support, either from stout trellis, canes or wigwams. Tie the vines in to the supports regularly. Ensure the soil moist. A black plastic mulch will keep moisture in the soil, keep weeds down and stop fruit rotting if vines grow along the ground.
When the cucumber plants have developed six or seven leaves, pinch out the growing tips to encourage side shoots. When the first fruits form, feed the plants with a high-potassium liquid fertiliser xxxxx.
The cucumbers are ready to harvest when the ends of the fruit are no longer pointed, but rounded. It is important to keep picking them because left on the vine, they discourage others from developing.
Choosing disease-resistant varieties will help keep problems at bay. As with courgettes, powdery mildew on leaves can be a problem. Under glass, red spider mite and whitefly can be troublesome for a cucumber plant. Use XXX to prevent these pests.
Did you know:
Cucumbers are usually more than 90% water, although, garden-grown varieties are invariably more flavourful, crunchier and less watery than their commercial counterparts.
In his writings, Pliny the Elder recorded described the way Romans cultivated cucumbers, in what must be the earliest reference to raised beds and cloches. He noted that the Roman Emperor Tiberius always had cucumber on his dining table.