This article reprinted from our Green Guys site from the summer of 2009.
Cucumbers are vining everywhere in our garden right now: trailing down the brick wall beside the driveway, creeping their way down the back of house and even climbing up the wall of the studio. The problem with cucumbers is that most people (who are not into making pickles) just do not know what to do with these heavy producers, other than to give them to the neighbors. My favorite use for a cucumber is to include the entire vegetable in a healthy green drink. (more on how to make that later).
When to Plant
Cucumbers are usually started by planting the seeds directly in the garden soil. Plant after all danger of frost has passed, and the soil has warmed in the spring. Warm soil is necessary for the germination of seeds and the proper growth of plants. With ample soil moisture, cucumbers thrive in warm summer weather. A second planting for fall harvest can be made in late June, July or even early August, depending on your location.
Cucumbers can be transplanted for extra-early yields, which is what Roy and I did this year. The shelves inside the soap-making barn were lined with little pots of cucumbers and cantaloupe, waiting for the ground to warm up. If you are going to try this method, sow two or three seeds in peat pots or other containers, 3 to 4 weeks before the frost-free date. Thin to one plant per container. Plant transplants 1 to 2 feet apart in rows 5 to 6 feet apart when they have two to four true leaves. Do not allow transplants to get too large in containers or they will not transplant well. Like many vine crops, cucumbers do not transplant well when they are pulled as bare-root plants. This year, not a single cucumber went directly into the ground at our house – every plant is being grown in pots. The trick to successful cucumbers in pots, though, is providing them with lots of water, every day, during the hottest parts of the summer months. Pots cannot retain water the way the ground is able to, and a single missed day of watering during ninety-degree weather will create wilting. If you catch wilting in time, a good soaking of water can make your cucumber plant spring back to life.
Spacing & Depth
Plant seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep and thin the seedlings to one plant every 12 inches in the row or to three plants every 36 inches if planting in a hill. If you use transplants, plant them carefully in warm soil 10-12 inches apart in the row. In pots, use at least a 3 or 4 gallon pot, larger if possible, and include only one healthy transplant.
Cucumber plants have shallow roots and require plenty of soil moisture at all stages of growth. When fruit begins setting and maturing, adequate moisture is critical. For best yields, incorporate compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Cucumbers respond to mulching with soil-warming plastic in early spring but we prefer to use the more organic materials when the full heat of summer approaches.
If your garden is small, the vines can be trained on a trellis or fence. When the long, burpless varieties are supported, the cucumbers hang loosely and develop straight fruits. With a little vine training, a cucumber plant can even be grown on an apartment balcony. Wire cages also can be used for supporting the plants. Always remember not to handle, harvest or work with the plants when they are wet because it leaves the susceptible to fungus and disease.
You can pick cucumbers at any stage of development before the seeds become hard. Cucumbers are usually eaten when immature. The best size depends upon the variety you planted and your intended use for them. They can be picked when they are no more than 2 inches long for pickles, 4 to 6 inches long for dills and 6 to 8 inches long for slicing varieties. A cucumber is of highest quality when it is uniformly green, firm and crisp. The large, burpless cucumbers should be 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and up to 10 inches long. Some varieties can grow considerably larger. Do not allow cucumbers to turn yellow because this is when the flavor becomes quite strong and not as enjoyable. If some have started to turn yellow, include them in your green vegetable drink (end of article). Remove from the vine any missed fruits nearing ripeness so that the young fruits continue to develop. The cucumber fruit grows rapidly to harvest size and should be picked at least every other day.
There have been times when I have wished for a time-lapse camera. Cucumbers literally grow leaps and bounds overnight. I have seen a small cucumber that looked like it would need at least another week of growing, only to wake up the next morning and find that it is large, plump and ready to pick. Pickled, sliced, in salads or a part of healthy vegetable drinks, no vegetable garden would be complete without the cucumber.
Healthy Cucumber Drink:
- 1 large cucumber
- 1 cup spinach
- 2 stalks celery
- Cup of fresh or frozen berries
- 1 banana
All of the above ingredients can be placed in a juicer for a high vitamin drink. I prefer to chop the vegetables into smaller pieces, include a cup of orange juice (you can also use water) and mix the entire mixture in the blender until pulverized. This way, I am getting all of the vitamins, not just the juice. The inclusion of the fruits completely takes over the green vegetable taste, especially if you use berries like blueberries or raspberries.
When I was growing up in Kentucky, I remember our family always kept pole beans in the garden. Unlike bush beans, which are picked two or three times and finish their productivity, pole beans continue producing beans all the way up to the first frost. This is because they are known as in-determinate, meaning, they continue to grow, blossom and fruit (and grow some more). Keeping the beans picked often is the key to a productive vine. Bush beans will occasionally produce a second round of beans but can’t compete with the pole variety when it comes to yields.
When I was standing on our back patio this morning, I noticed how beautiful the light was, shining through the leaves of the pole beans. So, I went inside to grab my camera. This picture (below) is of the pole beans we have growing in large pots. The pots sit in front of the trellises that hold up our outdoor dining canopy. There is another six foot row growing up the back of the studio. Those are planted directly in the ground. But that is the beauty of growing beans. Even the blackest a thumbs can grow beans.
Pole beans originate from South America and are not indigenous to the United States. However, they have been popular in North America for centuries. The Native Americans referred to pole beans as one of the “three sisters”. Corn, beans and squash, The Three Sisters, were the principal crops of the Iroquois and other Native American groups in the northeastern United States, at the time Europeans arrived here about 1600. By this time, the Iroquois had been planting these three crops together for about 300 years. Corn also originated in tropical South America where they were cultivated by early peoples. Pumpkins and similar types of squash have a tropical origin as well. The origin of the name “Three Sisters” is because the three plants grew so well together. To this day, many people still vine their pole beans around stalks of corn.
How to Plant – Beans prefer rich soil in a sunny location. Make sure that you keep them watered deeply in the heat of the summer. Soaking is preferred to using overhead sprinklers.
Beans (pole or bush) do not transplant well so it is an absolute waste of time trying to plant them early indoors. Beans are fairly fragile and you should not sow them until all frost danger has passed and the soil remains above 65ºF. Besides, theY germinate very quickly, sometimes in just a matter of a few days.
Plant seeds 1½ inches deep, every two to three inches in rows 24 inches apart. Cultivate frequently and shallow until flowers appear. After they begin to flower, be careful not to disturb the roots as it can cause the blossoms to drop.
Pole beans require structure or trellising for support. There are several ways to trellis pole beans but the most popular methods are: the teepee, the single stake method, the string-and-frame method or by growing them up the stalks of live corn.
The Teepee - hold three 8 foot poles together in the shape of a teepee and tie the top together with sisal, twine or wire. If you have concerns about being able to reach such a height and have no desire to climb a ladder to pick beans, you can choose 6 foot poles. Keep in mind, though, that the top of the bean plant will continue to grow and droop over on itself. A few years ago, I met a woman who built a life-size Native American style teepee for her pole beans. It required several poles and a very large gap was left between the poles on one side. This not only allowed her to step inside and pick the beans she couldn’t see from the outside, but also gave her sons a really cool summer playhouse.
The Stake Method - Hammer a 9 ft. stake or pole into the ground 1-2 ft. deep and sow the bean seeds directly underneath. The beans will wind naturally around the pole.
String-and-Frame Method - this is the method we have used for growing the pole beans behind our studio. Take two stakes or poles, at least 8-9 feet long and lay them on the ground or other firm surface. Starting 3 feet from the bottom of the stake, beginning hammering nails into one side of the stake about a foot apart. When your hammering is finished, drive the stakes firmly into the ground, even with each other, about six feet apart with the nails facing out. Now, take wire or very strong twine and begin going back and forth from stake to stake, wrapping the wire around the nails until you have reached the top. You should now have a ladder of string or wire for you pole beans to grow on. Many people say that pole beans prefer vertical lines instead of this horizontal method, and that’s probably true. However, sometimes space and landscape design requires that you improvise with what you have. As the vines grow, you may need to gently coax them in and out of the string.
Cornstalk Method - well, this one is pretty self explanatory. One thing that beans do is help the corn grow better. Beans are rich in nitrogen and corn is a hog when it comes to depleting the nutrients in the soil – together, they have a good give-and-take relationship.
Harvesting Pole Beans – Harvest when the pods are firm, crisp and fully elongated, but before the seed within the pod has developed significantly. Pick beans after the dew is off the plants, and they are thoroughly dry. Picking beans from wet plants can spread bean bacterial blight, a disease that seriously damages the plants. Be careful not to break the stems or branches, which are brittle on most bean varieties. The bean plant continues to form new flowers and produces more beans if the pods are continually removed before the seeds are allowed to mature.
This article is reprinted from our original Green Guys website. The pole beans we planted this year (pictured above) are the Kentucky Wonder variety. There are a number of varieties of pole beans. Read package information carefully to see whether the variety is suited for your region.