It is entertaining to watch a cucumber (Cucumis sativus) grow through its stages from tiny vine to full-size plant with edible fruits. As the soil temperature reaches the 70 degree Fahrenheit range, it is time to plant cucumber, one of the most popular vegetables in the Cucurbitaceae family of plants. Producing fruits used for pickling, slicing or eating fresh off the vine, cucumber is a simple vegetable to grow in a home garden.
Seed Sowing and Seedling Emergence
The seeds of vining cucumber varieties such as 'Boston Pickling' and 'Lemon Cucumber' are sown either four to five seeds per hill of soil or 2 to 3 feet apart in a straight row. Seed germination, or sprouting, occurs fairly fast. Watch for the two-leaved seedlings to emerge above the soil three to 10 days after sowing the seeds.
A seedling's first two leaves are called cotyledon and are round with smooth edges. The next leaves are true leaves with the characteristic cucumber heart-shape and sharp-edged margins.
The soil should remain moist at all times as the seedlings begin to grow. To test for moistness, put your finger in the soil. It should not be dry beyond the first finger joint. As seedlings reach 4 inches in height, remove some of them so the remaining ones are 1 ½ feet apart.
Each bush variety of cucumber requires 2 to 3 square feet of space, and the vine type can reach to 6 feet in height. Trellis systems or tomato cages can be used to support plants that are the vine type.
Plant cucumber seeds every two to three weeks until three months before your area's first average annual frost date to have a continuous harvest of cucumber fruits as summer progresses.
Flowering and Pollination
Cucumbers produce two kinds of bright, golden-yellow flowers: male and female. Male flowers emerge first but do not produce fruits and fall off after pollination is complete. Female flowers emerge within one to two weeks.
Cucumber plants are not self-pollinating; they require bees or other pollinators to carry their pollen from male flowers to female flowers. Insecticides applied at cucumbers' flower stage of growth can kill the pollinators, interfering with the process of pollination.
Fruiting and Harvest
After female cucumber flowers have been pollinated, they swell at their bases and begin to develop into fruits. Cucumber fruits usually can be harvested 50 to 70 days after the seeds were sown, depending on the variety and weather conditions.
Cucumber varieties used for pickling are ready to harvest when the fruits reach 3 to 4 inches in length. The harvest lasts seven to 10 days for each of those plants. The longer fruits of varieties used for slicing are ready for harvest when they are 7 to 8 inches long, and their harvest time may continue for as long as four to six weeks.
At peak harvest time, cucumber fruits should be picked every two days. Cucumber plants produce more fruits when the fruits are picked regularly. Fruits left on the vines become bitter and their skins tough.
A mature cucumber plant produces about 5 pounds of fruits, or about 10 fruits that are each 6 ounces. Heirloom varieties, however, produce about 2 to 3 pounds of fruits per plant.
When harvest is complete, pull the cucumber vines or bushes out of the soil, and put them into the compost bin or pile. Long vines can be cut into 1-to 2-foot lengths for speedier decomposition. Vines or bushes left on the ground to decompose may attract pests or diseases to the garden.