With cucumbers the more you harvest the more they give.

Position: Climbing or trailing types of cucumber should be spaced about 10cm (4in) apart with about 45cm (18in) between rows. The plant will grow to about 30cm (12in). Trailing types may be grown up canes or fences; they can also be allowed to twine up strings.

Sowing: Sow indoors July to October or outdoors from mid November to December. From July to October, they can be started off in 7.5cm (3in) pots, and grown indoors, Place two or three seeds, on their sides, about 2.5cm (1in) deep per pot, which is filled with moist compost. Sometimes cucumbers transplant badly, handle with care and disturb the roots as little as possible.

Cucumbers can be sown in situ when the risk of frost has passed and the soil temperature is at least 16°C (61°F). Prepare holes 30cm (12in) wide and mix in plenty of well rotted compost or manure. Mound the planting hole up slightly as this will help with the plants' drainage. Sow two seeds per mound placing them on their sides, about 2.5cm (1in) deep. Cucumbers are warm season crops, with no tolerance to frost. They must have temperatures of between 18 to 27°C (64 to 81°F). In cold areas protect the young plant with mulches or cloches. A thick mulch will also help retain water.

Cultivation: After they have germinated thin out the seedlings to remove the weakest. Seeds germinate best if kept at 20°C (68°F). Ideal night temperature should be no lower than 16°C (60°F). This temperature should be maintained for four to six weeks after the seedlings have been planted out, so harden off and plant out when all frost has passed.

Nip out the growing point when the plants have about five leaves to encourage a stronger growth. Train up the supports tying in as required. When the plant has reached the top of the support, nip out the tip, two leaves beyond the last flower. Side shoots will then develop, producing more flower and fruit. If allowed to trail on the ground nip out the main shoot when it has produced about 1.5m (54in) of growth and remove side shoots after one leaf.

If grown in a greenhouse, keep it damped down to reduce any pests. Water regularly and feed with a high potash liquid feed every two weeks. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails especially when the plants are young. If they become a problem, use a recommended proprietary brand of slug and snail bait. Try to avoid watering from above as this may lead to a fungal problem especially in warm weather. Pick off any badly affected leaves and spray with are commended proprietary brand of fungicide.

With Cucumber a lot is written about removing male flowers as they make the fruit taste bitter. This only applies to highly developed, such as F1, indoor varieties which produce the long sleek cucumbers that you find in supermarkets. 'Real' cucumbers, grown outdoors, need the male flowers for pollination. Without them you get no fruit and with them the fruit tastes just as glorious.

Harvesting: 60 to 68 days to maturity. Cut cucumbers regularly from about ten weeks after planting. Cut them with a knife, leaving a short stem and continue to check the plant regularly for fruit.

Flower and therefore fruit development is sometimes a little erratic at the start of the season. Generally the first flush of flowers will be mainly female. Female flowers have a small swelling (embryonic fruit) behind the petals. Most pollination is done by insects, but if fruit is failing to set, them the female flowers can pollinated by hand. To pollinate by hand, take a male flower and remove all its petals, press it against the centre of the female flower. Pollen can also be transferred using a fine paint brush, taking pollen from the male stamen and brushing it lightly over the female stigma. Male flowers can be identified by the long 'stamen' growing out of the centre. Female flowers have a tiny cucumber behind them rather than the bare stalk of their male counterparts.

History: Cucumbers originated in India, where it has been grown for at least 3000 years. The Ancient Greeks and the Romans were early connoisseurs. In Europe, the French were the early adopters in the ninth century. It took another five hundred years before England developed a taste, in the early fourteenth Century. It was established in North America by the 1650's.

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