Growing Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus)

I love the holidays.  The kids come home.  We eat, we visit, and then I try to get them to help me in the garden.  Before they get here, my wife always reminds me that when company comes they are “company” and not “labor”.  She encourages me to leave the gardening alone and play host all weekend.  And, since I love my wife, I try.  I really do.  However, I rarely succeed.

My son in law Ramez is skeptical of the "little thing he can help with in the garden"

My son in law Ramez is skeptical of the “little thing he can help with in the garden”

This weekend I made it until about noon on Saturday.  By that time I had whined enough, that the kids (and even my wife) told me to go.  So, my son in law Ramez (Moose) put on his work shoes (that I keep here for him for just such opportunities) and we headed out.

Moose helped me move my cattle panel trellises from my “old garden” to the “new garden”.  I use cattle panels, supported by T-Posts, in place of tomato cages.  I also use them to grow vining crops like cucumbers.

This year, Sally and I are going to make pickles.  So, I am growing a bunch of cucumbers.  Moose and I set up two sixteen foot panels so I can grow a full 30’ foot row.  Since cucumbers are so productive, a 30’ row will give Sally and I more than enough pickles to meet our canning needs.

My daughter Jessie is planting "pickling" cucumbers along my cattle panel trellis

My daughter Jessie is planting “pickling” cucumbers along my cattle panel trellis

Growing – Cucumbers are cucurbits.  People often ask me how I know how/when to plant so many types of plants.  Well, I cheat.  Instead of trying to learn all of the traits of single plants, I learn the traits of plant families.  If you learn the cultivation requirements of some of the basic plant families (like Cucrbitaceae or Brassica), you know how and when to grow a whole lot of different plants that fall in those families.  Generally, all cucurbits can be planted and grown in the exact same way.

Blue cucumber seeds have been treated with an organic, sulfur based fungicide called thiram.  This protects against certain pests and makes sure the seeds do not rot in moist soil.

Blue cucumber seeds have been treated with an organic, sulfur based fungicide called thiram. This protects against certain pests and makes sure the seeds do not rot in moist soil.

Cucumbers can be planted about two weeks after the last frost date.  For me, that is usually around March 15.  Plant them in a sunny location that receives at least 8 hours of sun a day.  They are heavy feeders and they need good drainage.  Plant cucumbers about an inch deep in beds that are well worked with organic material.  As they grow, watch their leaves.  If they show signs of yellowing, side dress with a good aged manure.

Cucumbers produce lots of vines.  While you can let them run, the fruit quality and appearance will be better if they are trellised.  I have grown them on three legged trellises with a lot of success.  However, since I am going for production, I now grow exclusively on cattle panels.

Untreated "Muncher" cucumber seeds

Untreated “Muncher” cucumber seeds

Since cucumbers produce so many vines, they need a lot of water.  Plus, the fruit of a cucumber is 90% water.  If you do not give them enough water, they can become bitter.  At a minimum, they need 1” a week from a slow deep watering.  However, at flowering and fruiting, it is a good idea to up the amount of water to 1 ½” to 2” per week (especially in sandy soils).  Ideally, cucumbers should not be allowed to dry out.  The soil should stay moist throughout the growing season.  Also, mulch your vines heavily to get the most out of all of that water you are applying.  This mulch will save water and keep the roots cool.  Cool roots mean longer production.


The other day I was at lunch in BCS (that is Bryan-College Station for all you non-Aggies out there) with several Masters of Horticulture.  We were talking about our gardens and I mentioned that my daikon were doing really well.  To my surprise, not a single one of these PhD Horticulturists knew what a daikon was.  I found this somewhat amusing but I guess if you do not eat a lot of Asian food, then you would have no reason to know about daikon. 

Sydney Pickle, Hannah Michna and Lindsey Pickle pull the first daikon of the year from the yupneck's garden

If you are not familiar with daikon, here is a little background.  They are a root crop much like carrots or parsnips.  In fact, the Japanese translation of their name means “large root”.  Daikon is a radish and it is a staple of Japanese food.  They cook it, pickle it, stir fry it, stew it and eat it raw.  The Chinese, Koreans and Indians also eat a lot of this spicy root.  The greens are also edible.  One reason it is so popular in the Far East is it’s storage capabilities.  Unbruised daikon can stay fresh for three months in a root cellar.  When dried, they can last much longer.  This allows the Japanese to have a ready supply of a vitamin C throughout the long winters.  There are more acres of daikon in production in Japan than any other vegetable.

There are two varieties of daikon.  One looks like a big turnip and can grow to 100 pounds.  However, the one that I grow is much more common.  Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus is a long white root that resembles a carrot.  It has white flesh and skin.  It can grow to lengths of 36” but is most often harvested when it is between 12” to 18” long and the diameter is between “1” and 2”.  Summer diakon have a sharper and spicier flavor than fall diakon.  Also, the taste of the daikon changes as you progress up the stalk.  The hottest (and most radish-ey tasting) part is near the tip.  The flavor becomes milder as you move up the root toward the greens. 

Daikon, Chinese cucmbers and volunteer zinnias in the potager

Daikon are very easy to grow.  They like rich, loose soil and full sun.  Plant at the same time as you plant other root crops.  They actually work best as a fall vegetable but do quite well in the spring.  Since they produce roots that weigh over a pound, a small amount of space will provide you with lots of radish. 

I work with several Indian and Chinese ex-pats so I grow enough to share.  This year, one of my friends took some home and had his wife make me pickles.  They are AWESOME!!!!  I have enjoyed these pickles so much that I am including the recipe here.  It is a simple and delicious recipe that will make a perfect side for all of your outdoor summer grilling.  Hope you enjoy!

Debbie Kwan’s Daikon Pickles

Slice the daikon and sprinkle with about 1 tsp of salt. Use your hands to knead the vegetables for about 3 minutes.  Place in fridge and wait about 15-30min until water has been expelled.  Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently to expel extra water.

 Combine 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup rice vinegar and 1/2 cup of water in a pot on low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool then pour over the daikon. The brine should cover the daikon. Add peppers of your choice to make it spicy.  Let it marinate in the brine for at least 1 day before eating. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks.