The Year of the Cucumber

September 23, 2016

This is very likely the last week when we will have enough cucumbers to include in the Standard Share.  After their prolific performance this season, it didn't seem right to let them simply fade off into the past without a bit of a tribute,  so I will take a some time to share with you a few details about how we grow this crop in our urban context.  Our cucumber growing method is one example of how we use extra labour to help us grow more food in less space.

Like any vining plant, cucumbers have the capability of taking over a garden space once they get a taste of warm summer weather, but sprawling growth is not necessarily productive.    To get the most out of our cucumber beds, we transplant young seedlings at a high density and train each plant to climb up a single string which is tied to a support bar above the centre of the bed.  Regular attention is required during the first month as the vines are eager to send out multiple leaders in all directions.  These beds can quickly turn into cucumber jungles if not kept in check with continual pruning.  Each plant is pruned to one central leader which is wrapped around the supporting string as it climbs vertically.  

The additional work upfront pays off later in the season when the harvesting begins.  The cucumber fruit are suspended in the air which keeps them clean and makes them much easier to find.  I believe that this also gives us a greater percentage of straight cucumbers too, especially in the case of the longer Summer Dance variety.  About 20 percent of the fruit we pick is composted due to crazy curls or blemishes and I suspect this number would be much higher if we were growing the cucumbers on the ground.

Once the vines reach the centre support bar, I carefully coax them over the top and down the other side and they continue to produce as long as they are picked regularly and get enough light.  To help increase air flow and light exposure to the new leaves, older leaves are constantly removed from the plants.  This also helps to keep the foliage dry which reduces disease and fungal problems that are common with cucumbers when their leaves are too wet.  The photo below shows the cucumber patch in its final weeks and you can notice that all of the leaves near the ground have been removed.  By the end of the month the vines will have likely frozen and dried up a bit.  Then I'll untangle them from the support wires to move them to the compost bin and get ready to set up the trellis in a brand new spot next season. 

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