Growing cucumbers in the home garden provides you with crisp, tender cucumbers bursting with flavor. Although they are great for salads — or for making pickles — my favorite way to eat fresh cucumbers is right from the vine. These easy-to-grow vegetables do take up considerable space, but there are dwarf or bush varieties that can be grown in containers or raised beds.
Choose a Variety
Cucumbers come in many varieties under the umbrella of slicers, pickling or picklers, and European cucumbers. Pickling cucumbers reach a length of 4 to 6 inches at maturity, have tender-crisp skins, and are bursting with flavor. For eating whole — or making pickles — picklers are the best choice. Slicers, like those you see in the grocery store, on the other hand, grow to 8 inches in length and are best for slicing in fresh salads. European cucumbers are long and slender and may reach a length of 12 to 16 inches. They are typically milder and are ideal for those who suffer from digestive problems.
Choose a location that receives full-day sun for the best results. Although cucumbers tolerate less sun, these heat-loving plants produce best in direct sun for at least 6 to 8 hours a day.
Prepare the Soil
Till the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches and remove all foreign bodies — like rocks, roots and plant debris — from the soil. Layer the area with 2 to 4 inches of compost or well-rotted manure and work it into the top six inches of soil. This improves the texture of the soil while providing slow-release nutrients to your growing cucumbers.
Apply 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 fertilizer following the recommended application rate on the container. If your soil is high in nitrogen, use 5-10-10 fertilizer, otherwise, 10-10-10 is recommended. Work the fertilizer into the soil well, as contact with seeds or young roots will cause damage to your plants.
Cucumbers are a tender vegetable and cannot be planted until all danger of frost has passed in your area and soil temperatures have reached 50 degrees. Sow cucumber seeds to a depth of ½ inch spaced 4 inches apart in rows. A distance of 36 inches between rows allows plenty of room for vines to sprawl. Cover the seeds with soil and firm down lightly with the back of the hoe to secure the seeds.
Water to moisten the seeds and keep the soil moist — but not soggy — until seedlings emerge in 7 to 10 days. Germination time depends on soil temperature and weather conditions. Once established, water deeply once or twice a week to keep the soil evenly moist. Although they will tolerate dry soil, production will be inhibited.
Keep weeds under control by hoeing or hand picking. Cultivating the soil between rows keeps the soil loose, but once the plants begin to vine, this is no longer and option.
Side dress cucumbers with fertilizer when they are 4 inches high before they begin to vine. Sprinkle fertilizer along the row and work it into the soil with the hoe. Use caution not to disturb roots or get fertilizer on the foliage.
Harvest cucumbers when they are young and tender. Three to four-inch picklers with a diameter of 1 to 2 inches are crisp and tender. Slicers grow long and slender before filling out. Pick them when they are six inches long and their diameter reaches one ½ to 2 inches. Discard any overgrown or yellowed cucumbers as the skin becomes tough and the flavor is undesirable once they reach this size.
Keeping your cucumbers picked regularly encourages the plants to produce more cucumbers. If you are not ready to eat your cucumbers when they reach the desired size, pick them anyway and store them in the refrigerator. Failing to keep them picked causes the plants to stop producing and shortens the harvesting period.