End of Season Review - Cucumbers
Here we are at the start of a brand new year. The holidays are over, the big after-Christmas cleanup is *almost* finished, kids are back at school and things are finally settling down. Amid the Christmas dinners and New Year’s celebrations, we also had my daughter’s birthday, so our holidays are not so much spent relaxing as they are spent planning, preparing and, of course, celebrating. And now that it's all said and done, I've come down with a cold...I suppose if I was going to catch a cold, this was the best time for it!
I usually order my seeds in mid-January – which is next week – time is just flying by! In the meantime, I will do my best to wrap up my end of season reviews this week. Well, that was the plan before this cold hit. We will see how far I get.
Today I’m covering cucumbers and I will then move on to the peppers, root crops and squash. Lastly, I will do brief summaries on the alliums, herbs & fruits.
I grew cucumbers for the first time last year and I’m finding them to be such a fun crop. This summer, there always seemed to be one or two hiding in the foliage and they never failed to bring a smile to our faces when we found them.
I grew 3 varieties this year - Suyo Long (which I also grew last year), Garden Sweet Burpless and Lemon.
|First Garden Sweet of the Season|
There was a bit of a transplanting issue early in the season. Of the 8 seedlings I planted, 3 of them died shortly after transplanting. Initially I had no idea what happened – was the soil too wet, too dry, was it too much sun, cucumber beetles?
|Wilted cucumber seedling that unfortunately did not recover|
|Suyo Long & Lemon Cucumber|
The Suyo was almost, but not quite, fully pollinated
I also did a bit of an experiment when sowing the cucumbers. I had read that cucumber roots are sensitive to transplanting so I sowed some of the seeds in larger pots and used cell packs for the rest. Although my planting too deeply mishap put a bit of a kink in my experiment, I was still able to compare the growth on several of the survivors and found that there was no difference in growth between those plants started in larger pots vs. cell packs. Space under the grow lights is always limited, so the smaller the container I can use, the better.
The biggest issue I had last year (in 2013) with the cucumbers was inadequate pollination. I did a bit of research on pollinator attracting annuals and decided to plant borage in the cucumber/squash beds this year.
I was obviously unaware what MONSTERS borage plants were as I planted 6 of them in each bed. While they did attract bees, they were just too large and unwieldy – most of them reached over 2’ across! Needless to say, I ended up ripping them out in August as they were interfering with the other plants in the beds.
|Huge Borage Plant|
This guy was at least 2.5' across
|You can see the Lemon cucumber vine on the left, full of blossoms|
as well as the purple of the borage blossoms
So with all these notes I take, you would think I don’t miss any important details….and you would be wrong. Only when I review my notes do I sometimes realize that I have missed key information. In this case, I forgot to note how many of each variety I grew. The only one that I did note was the Suyo Long, of which I grew 2 plants. So of the remaining 6, I’m pretty sure I grew more of the Garden Sweet than the Lemon, so I’m taking an educated guess that I grew 2 Lemon & 4 Garden Sweet.
Garden Sweet was definitely the most productive. Also love the fact that it is a multi-use cucumber – good to eat fresh as well as in pickles. The Suyo Long was next up in terms of production. If you picked them at a good size – which is still quite large at around 12" or even more - they have very small seeds, much like a greenhouse cucumber. Lemon is best for fresh eating and we really enjoyed it’s refreshing taste & crisp texture.
I did spray the plants with a milk spray a few times during the season, but powdery mildew still hit in early August and by the end of the month, the plants were covered. I was, however, able to continue harvesting till mid to end of September, so that was nice.
Prior Year Comparison
2013 marked my first attempt at growing cucumbers. I transplanted the cucumbers outside on May 21st, which turned out to be a bad thing as they suffered quite a bit when some unusually cold temps came around only a few days later. My exact words at the time were - "the plants look fried”. Also, I only had 4 beds in 2013, so I packed those cucumbers in tightly, spacing them only 6” apart along a trellis.
As I mentioned previously, my biggest problem in 2013 was lack of/incomplete pollination. I only grew Suyo Long and many of the baby cucumbers dropped off completely. Of the few that actually grew, almost all of them were severely deformed (super fat on one end, super skinny on the other) which I soon discovered was the result of incomplete pollination.
Complete pollination on cucumber plants requires multiple bee visits. I have read that it takes at least 9 visits from bees to pollinate each female cucumber & squash blossom adequately. Considering that the blossoms are open for less than a day, that’s quite the tight window of opportunity, especially with the declining bee population.
So with the above issues - lack of pollination, transplanting too early, and planting too closely – it’s no wonder that the 2013 cucumber harvest was sparse.
Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year
This was a very good cucumber year. I corrected the three issues from 2013 and, even with the failed transplants, the Suyo Long harvest was significantly improved (+240%). Another interesting thing to note is the timing – this year, the Suyo seedlings were transplanted outdoors two weeks later but the harvest actually started a full two weeks sooner than last year. I’m thinking that the shock of those few chilly days in late May 2013 set the plants back quite a bit. Our last frost date is on May 10th, so the last week of May should be more than fine to transplant the seedlings - the key word here is SHOULD. Moral of the story – make sure to check the weather for the coming week before transplanting, just in case.
The borage and Lemon cucumber blossoms really worked in attracting those pollinators and most of the Suyo Long’s were fully or almost fully pollinated. As for the Lemon and Garden Sweet, earlier in the season I did notice some fruit drop, but this didn't seem to be an issue as the summer progressed and bee activity increased. Also, neither of them had issues with incomplete pollination.
|Garden Sweet on the Vine|
One thing I realized that I hadn’t noticed before was that the cucumber plants actually grow additional shoots from the base. So each plant ends up with multiple vines growing up the trellis, not just one. I spaced the cucumbers 12” apart this year (instead of the too close 6” spacing I did last year) & did note that because of these extra shoots, I may want to increase the spacing even more, to around 18”. But my cucumber growing space is limited & I do want to grow a couple of extra varieties next year, so I’m thinking I will keep the spacing at 12" for now.
We loved all of the varieties we grew this year. The Lemon cucumbers were delicious – so long as you picked them young enough. These will definitely stay in the rotation for many years to come. In fact, even if we didn’t enjoy them, I think we would still plant one or two vines simply for their awesome bee-attracting ability.
Garden Sweet Burpless will be on the list as well. Suyo Long did much better this year than last. It is another multi-purpose cuke – good for both fresh eating & pickling - and it is sufficiently different from the others that I want to include it next year.
I also want to try another one or two new varieties, including a parthenocarpic that needs no pollination. My main concern is that I have read that pollination actually degrades the quality of the cucumbers – which is why most of these are grown under cover and are often referred to as “greenhouse cucumbers”. But other bloggers that grow them outdoors don’t seem to have any issues, so I’m going to give them a try. It will be interesting to see how well these produce compared to the standard varieties.
Till next time…