Cucumber & Gherkin

Cucumber

A popular salad vegetable (Cucumis sativus) with indoor or outdoor varieties available, in both short and long forms. Shops bought cucumbers, which are usually long and straight, are force grown in heated greenhouses and often lacking in the crispness and flavour of home grown fruits.

Gherkins are small ridged cucumbers that are mainly used for pickling.

Popular Varieties

Growing Conditions

Soil Type: Moisture retentive, humus rich, fertile soil.

Conditions: Sheltered sunny site.

Ease of Cultivation: Moderate to Easy.

Type: Salad Vegetable.

Hardiness: Frost tender.

When to Sow: Indoors from February. Outdoors from mid-May.

Harvest Season: Midsummer onwards.

Planting and Growing Cucumbers

The greenhouse cucumber can be quite difficult to grow well. Although shorter and fatter, the outdoor or ridge cucumber usually has a much better flavour than greenhouse varieties and is easier to grow.

Preparation

Cucumbers need a fertile water-retentive soil with plenty of organic matter incorporated. The soil should remain moist but not waterlogged.

When to Sow

Greenhouse varieties:

Start seeds in pots or modules from late February at 20°C (70°F). Allow the temperature to fall gradually once germinated. Plant in the greenhouse from late March. Train the stem up wire supports or canes. Pinch out the growing tip once they reach the roof. They can be grown in the soil or grown in large pots or growbags, like tomatoes.

Outdoor Varieties:

Prepare the ground for each plant by filling a 12in (30cm) deep hole with a good rich potting compost. Alternatively, grow in a large container, with good drainage. Direct sow two or three seeds into the soil from mid-May, or start off in pots indoors a few weeks earlier, and plant out later. Outdoor sowings will benefit from an initial covering with a cloche to encourage a good start. Once the leading stem has developed eight leaves, pinch out the growing tip to encourage side shoots, which will bear extra fruits. Provide the plants with suitable support to keep the fruits off the ground.

Note: if you don't have any cloches, 2 litre clear plastic bottles (with the base cut off) placed over each plant also works well.

Taking Care of Cucumbers

Protect all varieties from frost. Feed with a high potash feed every 2 weeks, once the fruits have begun to form.

The growing fruits will be heavy so ensure that plant supports are stable and strong enough to take the weight.

Any fruits touching the ground are vulnerable to rot and slug damage. Therefore, lift them off the ground as they develop using supports or a frame. Container grown fruits can be allowed to simply trail down the sides. Raise the container up if extra height is needed. In the vegetable plot, train the plant over stiff wire mesh or an old wooden pallet, supported at an angle.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to red spider mite, slugs and snails. Can also be affected by cucumber mosaic virus, which is transmitted by aphids.

Harvesting & Storing Cucumbers

Harvest when the fruits have reached a suitable size, usually around 12 weeks after sowing. Pick before they grow too large and turn yellow or they may stop further cropping. Pick the initial fruits when small to encourage the plant to keep producing.

Don't be tempted to pull the fruits off as this can damage the plant and fruit. Cut them off with a knife or secateurs.

Greenhouse forms can be harvested from June through the summer into October.

Cut and use straight away. They will keep for a while in the fridge but they can't really be frozen.

Preparation and Use

Cucumbers are a traditionally eaten raw as salad vegetable. Wash and dry and trim off the ends. Most outdoor varieties have tough spiky skin so also need to be peeled before eating. Slice or dice and add to salads or use as a sandwich filling.

Gherkins are ideal for pickling or they can be eaten fresh in salads or garnishes.

Popular Varieties of Cucumber

There was a time when the male flowers needed to be removed from cucumbers to avoid bitter tasting fruits but with modern all-female hybrids this is no longer necessary. Most varieties have dark green skins but light green, white and yellow forms are also available.

Cucumber 'Anbar' (F1 Hybrid) is a vigorous variety that produces an abundance of tasty long green cucumbers. Good disease resistance. Available from Marshalls.

Cucumber 'Baby Rocky' is a vigorous heavy cropper that produces tasty, snack-size fruits that are perfect for lunch boxes, salads and picnics. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Bella' is an female greenhouse variety that produces high yields of long fruits with good flavour and no bitter aftertaste. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Burpless Tasty Green' (F1 Hybrid) a very popular Japanese variety with exceptional flavour. Disease resistant with a smooth skin and a crisp juicy texture. Ideal for growing in a greenhouse, conservatory or even outdoors. Available from Marshalls, Thompson & Morgan, Van Meuwen.

Cucumber 'Carmen' (F1 Hybrid) is a climbing greenhouse variety, which produces a prolific harvest of fruits with a mild flavour and no bitter after taste. High resistance to powdery mildew, scab and leaf-spot. Height to 9ft (3m). Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Cetriolo Marketer' is an outdoor climbing type that produces prolific crops of dark green, medium length, fruits. Grow against a support. Height to 9ft (3m). Available from Thompson & Morgan. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Crystal Apple' is an outdoor heritage variety that produces large golf ball sized fruits with tender flesh that has a sweet flavour and no bitter after taste. Best grown against a support but can be left to trail if preferred. Height to 9ft (3m). Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Crystal Lemon' produces a prolific crop of golf ball sized fruits, if picked regularly. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Cucino' (F1 Hybrid) (RHS Award of Garden Merit) produces tasty, crisp and uniform baby cucumbers from June through to the first frosts. The fruits can be eaten without peeling. Grow in a greenhouse or outdoors in a sheltered, sunny spot. Height to 9ft (3m). Available from Thompson & Morgan, Van Meuwen.

Cucumber 'Diva' is a high yielding smooth skinned, seedless, cucumber that is tender, crisp and sweet. Good powdery and downy mildew resistance. Grow under glass or outdoors in a sunny position. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Dominica' (F1 Hybrid) is a strong, vigorous variety that produces long fruits with thin skin. Excellent resistance to powdery mildew. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber Femspot (F1 Hybrid) is a vigorous greenhouse variety that can be harvested early. Produces good crops of slender, ribbed cucumbers with a crisp, refreshing texture and no bitterness. Available from Gardening Direct, Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Goblin' (F1 Hybrid) is an early fruiting variety that is ideal for growing in containers. Harvest June-October. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Jogger' (F1 Hybrid) is a trailing form that produces a good crop of long fruits with soft white spines. Crisp and juicy with no bitterness. Predominately female flowers. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Lemon' is a tasty lemon-yellow round cucumber variety the produces attractive tender sweet globe shaped fruits. Available from Marshalls.

Cucumber 'Marketmore' is a reliable outdoor variety producing long straight green fruits from July onwards. Good disease resistance. Available from Marshalls, Suttons, Dobies and Mr Fothergills.

Cucumber 'Masterpiece' is an early and reliable outdoor variety (RHS AGM) that produces heavy crops of dark green skinned long cucumbers with crisp white flesh. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Mini Muncher' (F1 Hybrid) a versatile prolific fruiting mini cucumber with great crunchy, juicy flavour. Available from Marshalls and Mr Fothergills.

Cucumber 'Mini Stars' (F1 Hybrid) is a miniature variety with good vigour. The fruits are best harvested at 10cm (4) for the freshest flavour. Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Nimrod' is a popular greenhouse variety that produces scab resistant fruits with a crisp, bitter-free taste. All female. Harvest June-October. Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber Peticue is a high yielding mini Cucumber. Best picked when 6-8ins (15-20cm) long. A short-vined variety, full of flavour, ideal for container growing indoors or out. Harvest from June to October. Available from Gardening Direct.

Cucumber 'Sherpa' (F1 Hybrid) is a self fertile indoor strain that produces a bumper crop with refreshing taste. Available from Marshalls.

Cucumber 'Swing' (F1 Hybrid) is a useful greenhouse/outdoor type with all female flowers/ Produces a heavy crop of slightly spined, dark green cucumbers up to 8in (20cm) long, with a crisp, juicy flesh. Good powdery mildew, scab and general weather resistance. Height to 9ft (3m). Available from Thompson & Morgan.

Gherkins

Cucamelon 'Mexican Gherkin' (Mexican sour gherkins) an exotic fruit that is grown like a cucumber, producing bite sized citrusy fruits. Available from Marshalls, Suttons and Mr Fothergills.

Cucumber 'Diamant'( F1 Hybrid) an early ripening and prolific cropping gherkin type. Producing short, firm fleshed, tasty fruits ideal for pickling or used in salads. Good downy and powdery mildew tolerance. Long season. Thompson & Morgan.

Cucumber 'Fortos' produces a large crop of even-sized fruits, ideal for pickling.

Cucumber 'Gherkin' a fast growing high yielding variety that produces large numbers of small, pimpled fruits.

Plant Groups