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Holman's Horticulture: The cool cucumber

Lucas Holman • Jun 12, 2018 at 3:41 PM

Cucumbers can be enjoyed in so many ways, but my favorite way is pickled. From bread and butter to dill and everything in between, I enjoy the fruits of a cucumber pickled the best. Everyone has their own favorite, and I love discovering new pickling recipes and flavors.  

They are best planted in the springtime after the danger of frost has passed. Cucumbers are a warm-season crop and need the soil temperatures to be around 65 degrees. Typically, they are directly sown by seeds into the ground, but can be started inside also. Direct sown seeds need 3-feet between rows and 1-foot apart if they are trellised. If they are started inside, they need to be started three weeks before the date you want to set them in the ground.  

Most cucumbers are considered vining, so be prepared for them to run. They can be trained onto a trellis, which would allow harvest to be much more manageable.  Cucumbers that are allowed to run on the ground can run 4-5 feet, so be sure to give them ample space.  

Cucumbers are relatively easy to grow in Tennessee, so grow the type of cucumber you need for your situation. If you are only going to eat them fresh, be on the lookout for a good fresh-eating cultivar. There are also ample varieties that are exclusively used in pickling. Cucumbers are harvested at any stage of maturity for the situation you need. If you are pickling the smaller ones or gherkins, you will harvest them at the size you would like your pickle to be. Always harvest the fruits before they turn yellow.

With the hundreds of cultivars of cucumbers, one may get lost in trying to find the best one for their garden. I treat my garden as a trial garden and usually try new varieties out each year, while still growing my old favorites. I think it is always good for a gardener to try out new things. It’s a great way to see how things grow. This has worked out well and also shown me which cultivars are going to be successful in Tennessee.

They can be broken up into three main categories, pickling, fresh and novelty.  Pickling cucumbers need to be harvested when they are between 2-4 inches long.  This will ensure a crisp pickle. Some excellent pickling cultivars are County Fair, National Pickling and Bush Pickle. Most pickling cucumbers can be harvested around 48 days from seed. 

Fresh-eating cucumbers are harvested around 60 days, because they will be a larger fruit. One of the most popular fresh eating cucumbers is Straight 8, which was an All-American Selections winner from 1935. This cucumber cultivar has truly stood the test of time. Another favorite fresh eating cucumber is Fanfare, which is an All-American Selection winner from 1994. Novelty cucumbers are the ones that do not look like the typical cucumber. One of my favorite novelty cucumbers is Lemon, which is a lemon color and completely round like a lemon.

If you have any questions regarding your cucumbers or any other horticultural matter in your garden or lawn, feel free to contact Lucas Holman, horticulture UT-TSU Extension agent in Wilson County at 615-444-9584 or lholman1@utk.edu. The University of Tennessee Extension offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability and is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides real life solutions. For more information, visit ag.tennessee.edu.

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