Crunchy Cukes!

A lot of my friends don’t plant cucumbers, or indeed, any of the Cucurbit Family, which includes cucumbers, squash, eggplant, marrows, gourds, etc. The problem is they are all vines and sometimes very large ones. They spread all over the vegetable plot, intertwining with other plants, and tying them all together with their tendrils, which once wrapped around a stem are impossible to dislodge without surgery.

Further adding to the conundrum is that, while bush varieties have been developed for all but the largest types of squash and pumpkin, I’ve never found any with flavor to match the climbing types. (Note: if you do plant squash or pumpkin intending for them to crawl along the ground, pick your types carefully. Hubbard Squash for example can grow to one hundred pounds and literally take over the rest of your plot. In fact the giant pumpkins in the contests are hybrid squash.)

The good news is that cucumbers are perfectly happy climbing. Here’s how I’ve accomplished this. First, find a spot in your garden with a length of fence or wall facing South. This is the idea location because the wall extends into the soil and warms it early. Cukes love heat above and below the ground.

Go to the lumber yard and buy as much lattice as you need to fill the space and if you have no scrap wood, a length of cheap 2’x4’ to use as spacers. Buy lattice that has the one inch holes in it, not the smaller size used for privacy screen. While the screen is treated with wood preservative, do not fear it, as the only thing that’s going to touch it are those tendrils which wrap around and around the slats of the screen and hold your plants up.

While you’re at it, go to the garden centre and buy six cucumber plants, which usually come that way in plastic packs. You can start them by yourself, but you’re looking for the outdoor version of English Cucumbers, (long and straight and easy on the stomach. Most real English cucumbers are grown in glass houses), so it’s sometimes better to take your garden center’s suggestion as to what is best for your purpose.

There’s also a number of varieties around now that either set male and female flowers on each plant, or are all female. The advantage here is that the plants will set fruit without male cultivars around, so your harvest will be earlier and more often than can be expected with traditional plants. Do not introduce two types of plants to one area. You may be unwillingly experimenting with hybridization and the result can be truly awful. I did this once and ended up with cukes the size of footballs, which were lime green and so sour they were inedible. I ended up pickling them, though, and they were fine as Bread and Butters.

Back to the garden. Take your piece of 2”x4” and saw it into six inch pieces. Nail these onto the fence posts or wall studs in three places up and three places down, so that they support your 4’x8’ sheet of lattice in the middle and both ends. Then nail the lattice onto the spacers. Usually there’s only room to put up the lattice with the vertical side being the four foot dimension. If you’ve got the room to put it up eight feet onto the wall, and prefer the look, the cukes won’t disappoint you and will still climb all the way to the top. The 2”x4” spacers will let air behind the plants and discourage mildew and damp.

Prepare six planting holes close in front of the lattice and fill them with well rotted manure and compost, for as fast growers cukes are also heavy feeders. Then plant them, pushing down firmly to avoid air pockets around the roots and water them thoroughly. In fact keep up the extra rations of water for a week or ten days to give them a head start. From this point on the only thing you should have to do is to put the lead stem of each plant up the wall so it can reach the lattice. Once it has secured itself to the slats, your job is over except for regular, deep waterings.

The plants will zip up the wall and the cucumbers, no matter what type will grow down, perfectly straight, teased into shape by gravity. You can use anything you’ve got at hand for lattice, old rebar, a bed spring, even weaving string together to make a grid as long as it’s strong enough to bear the weight of the plants and fruit. The important thing is the plants are up, out of the way and not shading your other vegetables. In the Fall when frost touches them, clean up is easier as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *