Confusing cucumbers

While tomatoes are the most popular home-grown crop, far fewer people try their hand at growing cucumbers. Perhaps this is because people feel that there is far less variety among cucumbers and they are not worth growing at home or because they are perceived as more difficult to grow.

It is true that they are not as forgiving as tomatoes and, perhaps, not ideal for beginners, but they are certainly not impossible. They grow well in pots and they are ideal for greenhouses, polytunnels and mini, plastic greenhouses.

They need rich soil and lots of moisture once growing strongly, but they do have a tendency to rot if overwatered early on when it is cold!

But some are easier than others to grow and there are two main types to try.

First, and the kind that most people grow, are the long, green ‘supermarket’ types, though these grow without the plastic covering.

The curious thing about these cucumbers is that the fruit mature without the female flowers (with a baby cucumber behind) being pollinated. In fact, if they are pollinated with pollen from make flowers, the fruits become misshapen and bitter. In the past this meant picking off all the male flowers every day but today it is usual to plant all-female seeds. This means they are easier to grow. But if plants are stressed, short of water or in very high temperatures, they will produce a few male flowers.

Cucumbers need warmth and plenty of water when growing and the main issue is mildew on the leaves, usually caused by dry roots.

But there are other kinds of cucumber; the ridge and crystal apple kinds, as well as gherkins, that ARE pollinated and with these you just let the plants grow and allow the flowers to be pollinated. The disadvantage of these kinds is that the skins are rather tough and often bristly and there is a larger seed cavity. But they often have a stronger taste and they are easier to grow.

They may not look like the cucumbers you buy in supermarkets but they are definitely worth a try.

In addition there is the cucamelon, a straggly climber with small fruits like tiny watermelons. They are also easy to grow and the fruits taste a bit like cucumbers but they are rather tough with thick skins, Even so they are fun to try.

Jobs for the week

Deadhead roses as the flowers fade, trimming back to a leaf so new shoots start to grow immediately.

Sow vegetables for autumn and winter. This includes leaf beet, kohl rabi and chicory.

Harvest early potatoes. You can usually try to lift a root or two when the plants are in bloom. If there are few or small tubers then leave the plants for a few more weeks.

Keep cutting courgettes when they are still small – they are tastier when tiny and it will encourage more fruit to set.

Pull up broad beans when all the pods have been picked. You can fork over the soil and get ready to make new sowings or to plant cabbage and broccoli which will benefit from the nitrogen added to the soil by the roots of the beans.

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