Cool Cucumbers

The ancient prophet Isaiah compared his wayward countrymen to gardeners who had abandoned their cucumber gardens.  Since then the lowly Cucumis Sativus has made its way into greenhouses, farms, gardens, kitchens, salads, and pickle jars around the planet.

The good news for north central Texas is that cukes LOVE summer heat AND 8 hours of daily full sun.  Well, throw my 10 gallon hat on the ground, and holler, “Bring it on!”

Despite this desert behavior Texas cucumbers are not cacti, and they need to slurp water daily or their fruit turns bitter.  If your plants look wilted by lunchtime they need a drink.  Afternoon wilting is normal in Texas.

The other half of the good news two-fer is that cucumbers LIKE acid soil–vinaigrette, low pH stuff.  Didn’t I tell you high school chemistry was forever?  The big issue in southern Denton County is making soil that absorbs and holds water.  Alas, we cannot escape the topic of compost.  Here’s a good plan to sow and grow cukes locally.

•    Dig a hole or row 12” wide then line it with 2-4” of compost.  Organic buffs make a 4-6” layer.

•    Soak the layer with water.  This rotting matter functions like a water cistern all summer.

•    Pile the dug soil over the compost then make mounds a foot apart.

•    Plant a half dozen seeds in each mound about ½” below the surface then give the mounds or rows a good soaking with more water.  Damp seedlings germinate in damp soil in a few days.

•    A few days after the seeds are fully awake gently thin the seedlings to 3 per mound.  Cucumber roots damage easily so the operative word is “gently.”

•    When the thinned plants are established apply mulch. Leave a couple of inches of bare soil around the stems so water can soak into the ground, and get to the roots.

Cucumber plants come in bush and vine varieties.  Bushy types like Spacemaster are good for small gardens and patio pots.  Vines require room since they sprawl or climb an average distance of 6 feet.  Some are shorter and some longer.

Each cucumber plant produces boy and girl flowers.  About a half dozen boy flowers show up first near the vine’s base.  Their anthers produce pollen which the girl flowers will need when they show up a few inches up the vine.

Some nutty gardeners carefully tear off the boy flowers, and manually brush the stamens against the girl flowers.  Howard Garrett’s reaction to this kind of gardening is, “Get a life!”  The rest of us let the bees and wind take care of pollination or we give our vines a shake when we visit.  Unpollinated cukes curl up like the alphabet letter C, and they are seedless.

Pick cucumbers as soon are they are mature or the vines will shut down flower production.

I plant a second time in August and get a tasty autumn crop of cukes.

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