On the heels of uninspired cherries comes something a little more dear to me–cucumbers. In our house, we have an inside joke about cucumbers. Let me just say, “They Repeat:”
You know, you can grow burpless cucumbers that contain fewer cucurbitacins. (Other cucurbitaceae vegetable crops include cantaloupe, honeydew, pumpkin, summer squash, acorn and butternut squash, and watermelon.) And I’m pretty sure most of the ones I grow are of the burpless variety, as cucurbitacins also contribute to the bitter taste of cucumbers which we master gardeners wish to avoid. But to correctly classify a cucumber we can call them the slicing type (in salads), the pickling type (also good fresh), the standard dwarf vine, and the bush variety. Of these types, you can find a huge selection in between such as Armenian and round lemon cucumbers. I don’t even remember the exact kinds we grew this year except that one had skin, and one did not.
Cucumbers are a summer crop. If you’ve grown them before and been confused about why no cucumbers formed before you ripped out the plant frustrated, then you should know for next time that the first twenty or so flowers on a cucumber plant are male; i.e., wont produce fruit. (Let me just say here–because I love this word I’m about to use–plant breeders are working toward gynoecious types of cucumbers. You should be able to infer the meaning.)
Bees (once again) are needed to transfer pollen from the male flower to the female flower–this time in nature it’s the female with the tiny swollen pickle. Botany, plant sex, can be so much fun!
Cucumbers should be trellised somehow. I usually put a piece of chicken wire near the plant and let them grow over the wire to keep them off the ground. Cucumbers are masters at hiding. You will swear that you don’t have any, but if you just move that big thorny leaf out of the way I’ll bet you’ll find a perfectly camouflaged cucumber waiting for you. Just to prove this theory, to myself at least, I just got up from the computer to have a look at the end-of-the-season, neglected cucumber plant.
The biggest problem most people have with cucumbers is that they often turn out bitter. Bitterness is due in part to the above mentioned cucurbitacin. But other factors seems to affect bitterness, as well, such as temperature and uneven watering. The best advice to avoid bitterness is to get that plant a friend. Just kidding, get it? Bitter, party of one…
I’ll try that advice again: Buy new hybrid varieties, and plant cucumbers where they will have the most consistent watering and temperatures. Because you will be planting hybrids, you do not want to save the seeds. Members of the cucurbit family cross-pollinize and produce unreliable weird second generations.