My Favorite Cucumbers

cucumber-greenhouse-2008sept08-lah-314Sliced onto a green salad, garnishing Thai food, chopped and added to chicken sandwich spread, pickled on a burger, or just sprinkled with salt and munched as a snack, cucumbers are as cool as, well, a cucumber, and the perfect food for the hot days of summer.

Cucumbers hail from hot and humid southeast Asia, a climate that couldn’t be more different from high, dry Colorado. I’ve often imagined a baby cucumber seedling popping its cotyledons out of the ground, only to be hit with the cold, dry winds of spring. Realizing cruel fate has somehow caused it to end up in Colorado, it immediately despairs, shrivels, and dies!

Actually, a cucumber plant’s prospects aren’t quite so dire. Cucumbers can be productive here with some determination and a bit of good luck as far as the year’s weather is concerned.

Basically, those of us at higher altitudes have two choices—grow low plants outside in the garden, or trellis vining plants in a greenhouse. If your only option is to garden out in the elements, there are ways to beat our ubiquitous wind and late frosts.

cucumber_dbg_lah_7674Trellises are frequently recommended for saving space, but if you garden on an exposed site, plants grown vertically can be stunted by our desiccating winds. It’s better to stay close to the ground where it’s warmer and more sheltered. If frost threatens, you can throw a blanket over the plants to trap the day’s heat and protect your plants. If space is an issue, bush cukes take up less square-footage than allowing vining varieties to sprawl. And no matter which type you grow, mulch will keep fruit from rotting.

Another consideration is disease resistance. Cucumbers are subject to a variety of problems, and it’s always easier to prevent a problem than attempt to cure it.

My favorite bush variety is Spacemaster, but I admit that I haven’t tried many others. You can start seedlings indoors two to three weeks prior to planting outside, or sow them directly a couple of weeks past your average last frost date (May 15 in Colorado Springs). Then pray for a warm summer!

If you have any sort of greenhouse structure, that’s the place to use a trellis. Cucumbers thrive in the hot, humid interior. The tricky part is pollination.

Cucumbers originally has separate sexes—some plants produce all male (pollen-producing) flowers, while other plants produce only female (cucumber-producing) flowers. You have to have both to get a crop. Not wanting to “waste” half the plants, breeders have developed varieties that are 100% female-flowering. These are called “gynoecious.” Each packet contains a few seeds of another variety so that some flowers are male and pollination can take place.

cucumber_blkforest_20090729_lah_7814

The ultimate cucumbers are self-pollinating, known as parthenocarpic. With these cultivars, not only are the flowers are all female, but they will all develop into cucumbers without the need for pollination. Since greenhouses have no bees to transfer pollen, these are the best choice for growing under glass.

cucumber-cool-breeze-cwikipediaMy hands-down favorite cucumber is Cool Breeze (similar in appearance to the photo at right). A French “cornichon” (or gherkin) variety, Cool Breeze is intended for making those tiny cocktail-sized pickles, but the fruits are just as delicious when allowed to reach full size and eaten fresh. A crop is almost guaranteed since the plants are parthenocarpic and tolerant to/resistant of Cucumber Mosaic Virus, Scab, and Powdery Mildew. I think the best feature is how rapidly the plants grow; Park Seeds rates them at 45 days to maturity.

Another parthenocarpic cuke I’ve had good results from is the Mideast variety Diva. I trialed it with Sweet Success, and Diva was earlier and more prolific. Long, thin fruits have a smooth skin (see photo at top) and are also produced fairly early, listed at 58 days. They’re sweet and juicy, but never bitter. Diva is resistant to scab and mildews.

No matter which variety you choose, and however you grow them, they all taste much better when picked young. Be sure to harvest the fruits before the rind hardens and the seeds get big.

It’s been a while since I tried any new cucumbers, and there are a lot of new varieties I’m curious about. Which cucumbers do you grow? What results have you had? Which ones do you recommend?
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Bottom photo: Mat Pound, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

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4 Responses to My Favorite Cucumbers

  1. SJ Smith says:

    Glad to find your post! I’m in the low desert of S. Calif and growing cucumbers has been nearly impossible. You explained a bit, that the trellis can aid in them drying out. Totally makes sense. Thanks. I’m about to try planting them in a raised bed where I just put onion transplants. It’s been a drought for some time. I’m hoping the vines will help shade the soil for the onions to conserve water. Love to hear if you have had success with other varieties since this post in 2012.
    I am debating on trying these hybrids: Cool Breeze, Mici, Carolina, Sweet Burpless. In the past, I’ve been able to get a few fruits from Lemon Cukes, and Asian Mici Cukes…. but never a good crop. All others have just gotten white flies, fungus, and dried up and died.

    • LAH says:

      I’m impressed that you’re growing veggies in the desert. I grew up in So. Cal. so I can easily visualize your circumstances, and we’ve heard about the ongoing drought. Just a suggestion–instead of creating a raised bed, how about inverting it and creating a shallow basin? If you use dirt to hold in the water, you can easily break down the “dam” if it ever does rain. In the meantime, you’re creating a spot that will retain moisture, as well as sheltering your crops from the wind.

      Another point: onions have relatively small, shallow root systems, so avoid planting your cukes too close–they’ll compete for water and nutrients. Make sure your soil is fertile to support both crops. Onions are generally considered heavy feeders.

      As far as varieites, cucumbers thrive in the Middle East, which has a climate somewhat similar to yours, so why not try some of their varieties?

      Sadly, I did not get much of a cucumber crop last year. I had no way to water my garden during the hot, dry week we were evacuated for the Black Forest Fire. Although most of the plants survived (they were just seedlings in June), they were stunted for the rest of the summer. In fact, the only crop that didn’t suffer from the neglect turned out to be Swiss chard! Who would have guessed?

      • SJ Smith says:

        Yep. Swiss Chard is one tough plant. I’m not too fond of it, but plant it anyways. It’s my indicator plant for earwig activity. When the plants start getting holes, I put out oil traps. If I don’t, I’ll lose all my Spring transplants. But, I’ve learned they favor the Swiss Chard; so at least I get a warning.

        My Dad does the basin thing in O.C., and it does pretty well. I’m not sure why I began mounding dirt here??? Just did. I think it was because I mostly plant for the Winter rains, since it’s hard to keep things alive in the Summer. Believe it or not, just a decade ago, we would get some pretty good downpours in Winter in Riverside County.

        Any suggestions on a Middle East cultivar for cucumbers. I had good luck one year with the Armenian ones. The next year, a small yield. But, it does stand up pretty well to the climate, bugs, and fungus that make growing cucumbers difficult here.

        Sorry to hear about your garden last year. I hope you made it okay through the fire? Do you plan to plant a big garden this year, or is drought an issue with you as well?

  2. LAH says:

    Sorry, I don’t have a suggestion for a cucumber variety. I always plant Cool Breeze, and have been pretty happy with the results. I have a small, unheated, poorly-ventilated greenhouse and they go in there. Inside, it gets very hot in the summer, with low humidity, so perhaps similar to Riverside. I remember the rains–remember I grew up there (in OC). I’d love to hear about what you try and how it works out.

    And we made it safely through the fire, thanks. Even our 11 hens survived without us. (You can read the story here and on my other blog, compost-blog.com.) Haven’t decided on the garden yet. We have a new granddaughter coming in late March in Washington, so I won’t be here to start seedlings, at least. We’ve had drought, but we’re on a deep well so my water isn’t restricted. Still, I try to conserve.

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