Mainstay Vegetables: Cucumbers

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 - 5:50pm

Cucumis sativus

Mainstay Vegetables: Cucumbers

If you live in USDA Zones: 4 though 11, or have a greenhouse north of that, you can grow cucumbers. They require full sun, a neutral pH, loamy soil; slightly sandier soils are a plus for northern gardeners, however,  since they warm more quickly in the Spring and cukes are a warm-season vegetable. They are great for small gardens because they climb.

For an earlier crop, start your cucumber seeds indoors about 3 weeks before you transplant them into the ground. If you have a heat mat for the seedling tray, they like bottom heat of about 70ºF (21ºC). If you don’t have a heat mat, put the seeds flat on top of your refrigerator or somewhere else warm and sunny.   
Seed or transplant cukes outside in the ground no earlier than 2 weeks after your last frost date. Maybe even later - cucumbers are very susceptible to frost damage. Don't plant them too soon!

For seeds, work compost into the soil 6 to 8 inches deep then plant your seeds 1 to 2 inches deep, in hills of 3 to 5 seeds each. Make sure that soil is moist and well-drained, not soggy.

In a square-foot gardening raised bed, plant your hills 12 inches apart. Or make rows 12 inches apart. Might as well mulch around the plants or hills right after you plat them. Trellises are a good idea if you want to not only conserve space but to keep fruit from getting damaged by lying on the ground.

Water them frequently; increase to a gallon a week after fruit forms. When their soil is dry past the first joint of your finger, it is time to water them. NOTE! Inconsistent watering leads to bitter-tasting cukes. And if you can use drip irrigation, so much the better - it's best to keep the water off the leaves, if you can.

I recommend side-dressing your cucumbers with compost or well-rotted manure. (Or, if you are not going organic, use a fertilizer from your garden store which is low nitrogen/high potassium and phosphorus formula and apply at planting, 1 week after bloom, and every 3 weeks with liquid food, applying directly to the soil around the plants - but why spend money on all that?)

And, here's a cool tip from The Old Farmer's Almanac: spray vines with sugar water to attract pollinating bees and set more fruit. Also, early flowers may not set fruit since both female and male flowers must be blooming at the same time. This may not happen right away.
Deal with white flies, and cucumber beetles by using a cayenne pepper & water spray. Choose varieties that are resistant to mosaic viruses and bacterial wilts.

Dills should be four to six inches long when harvested. Slicing cukes should be six to eight inches long, while burpless (European, seedless) cukes should be about 10 inches long. Check for mature ones often, and pick them or the plant will stop fruiting. Don't--whatever you do--let them get yellow. Yellowed cucumbers have tough skins, bitter taste, and more seeds. (Yellowed cukes are good for seed-saving, though, if you have an heirloom variety.)
A great place to get seeds is The Shop at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello gardens.  Lots of heirloom varieties. One recommended variety is "Long Green Improved "(slicing) . I especially like tiny (1.5")  West Indian Burr gherkins  since they are resistant to insects, rabbits and deer: very small but very prolific and they fruit in the fall when other varieties are done.   ‘Straight Eight’ is a good one, too.

Pickling instructions and recipes in the comments - add your own!


Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
Recipe: NY Deli Half-Sour Garlic dill pickles

NY Deli Half-Sour Garlic dill pickles

Yield - 4 to-6 pints


  • 12 Kirby or 20-24 burr gherkin cukes (NOT slicing cucumbers)
  • 1-inch sprig of fresh dill (or 1/4 tsp dried dill) per jar
  • 1 to 2 smashed garlic cloves, skin-on, per jar
  • Dash of hot pepper flakes, per jar, for color (optional)
  • Vinegar brine (see recipe for spices & ratios)

Vinegar brine:

  • In a saucepan, add 1 pint cider vinegar to 2 pints water
  • Over medium heat, mix in 1/2 cup Kosher or pickling salt (NOT table salt)
  • Add 2 tablespoons of pickling spices in a cheesecloth bag: pickling spice available in the spice aisle or make your own pickling spice mix (see bottom of recipe)
  • Cook until spices permeate brine, about 1/2 hr on low. Brine should sour and not too salty; add water or vinegar to taste.

Fill jars with washed, sliced cucumbers - chips or spears. add garlic, dill, and hot pepper flakes. Pour brine to 1/2" from top, cover and refrigerate. Pickles will be ready in 1-2 weeks - older means spicier.


Pickling spice mix:

  • 6 tbs mustard seed
  • 3 tbs whole allspice
  • 6 tbs coriander seed
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 3 tbs ground ginger
  • 3 tbs red pepper flakes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
Oliveoilguy's picture
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 29 2012
Posts: 578
Thanks Wendy

Gardens in Texas are planted. Last frost was 3 weeks ago. Nipped my potatoes, but they have recovered.

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