Collection: Cucumbers

The cucumber is an annual chat originated in India, where its wild ancestor Cucumis hardwickii Royale may still be found in the subtropical valleys of the Himalayas. This ancient cucumber is bitter, as a protection against animals eating it before it is ripe. This natural bitterness still lingers in many cultivated forms, often in the skin or, in the very long-fruited varieties, in that portion of the cucumber closest to the stem.

Cucumbers were first brought under cultivation in the Indus Valley, but from there their culture spread into China and the Near East by the seventh century B.C. China and Japan developed many of the very long-fruited varieties that served as breeding stock for some of the long cucumbers we know today. The ancient Greeks were the first Europeans to cultivate the cucumber, and Roman authors have left a considerable body of information concerning its cultivation and pickling. The Romans made crock pickles with cucumbers very similar to those prepared today by the Germans and Eastern Europeans. Since cucumber seeds have been excavated from Roman sites in London, it has been assumed that the culture of the cucumber spread throughout western Europe during the Roman Empire. The oldest medieval documentation has come to light in archaeological remains found at Krakow, Poland, dating from A.D. 650 to 950. Unquestionably, such old remains would suggest that the Polish cucumber pickle and its Jewish variants have extremely long pedigrees in central Europe, reaching the Slavs even before Christianity.

Growing Cucumbers

Cucumbers are always healthiest when planted on gentle ridges or hills because the soil around their roots must be well drained. To save space, I train my vines up netting, which also allows me to monitor the insects better. The downside is that I have smaller harvests. The reason for this is that the male and female flowers are on different parts of the plant. The male (staminate) flower is close to the main stem, while the female or fruit-bearing flowers are on the ends of the shoots. On trellised plants, the male and female flowers often end up on opposite parts of the vine, which reduces rates of pollination. When grown on hills, the vines run together, which places the male and female flowers side by side. The bees do the rest. In hothouses the vines must be pollinated by hand unless they are the seedless sort.

Cucumber hills should be 4 to 6 feet apart, with three strong plants to a hill. Ground that has been planted with cowpeas the year before will produce higher yields than ground that is fertilized as the cucumbers are growing. Cucumbers thrive best when temperatures are between 70 and 75 degrees F, but usually burn out by mid-August. Successive plantings over a three-week period in June may avoid this, although cucumbers are somewhat day-length sensitive, which means that productivity decreases when there is more than 11 hours of daylight. Years ago, especially among the Pennsylvania Dutch, it was customary to destroy the old cucumber hills in August and plant them with fall and winter lettuces such as Brown Dutch, Landis Winter, or Speckled.

Saving Cucumber Seeds

For seed-saving purposes, cucumbers must be left on the vines until they ripen, usually when they turn bright yellow or orange. Set aside the best vines for this purpose and do not use them for harvesting. Once cucumber vines begin to produce fruit with seed, fruit production slows down or stops altogether. Let the ripe fruits hang on the vines about 15 days after they turn yellow, even if they should begin to shrivel. I pick the fruit and let it ripen even further on trays in my kitchen. Then, just about the time the fruit begins to rot, I press out the seed into jars of water and let this stand for several days until the seed mass begins to ferment. If there is any doubt, the odor will give fair warning when this has happened. The bad seed will float to the top with the scum. Skim this off and throw it away. Wash the good seed in a sieve and spread to dry on screens. Properly stored, the seed will remain viable for ten years. Do not save seed from cucumber vines that are producing bitter fruit, for this will only increase the likelihood that bitterness will become even more pronounced in the progeny. Furthermore, save seed from only the most perfect specimens, taken from vines most resistant to insects and disease. Different varieties of cucumber will cross with one another, but not with melons, squash, or burr gherkins.



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  • Lemon Cucumbers
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  • Improved Long Green Cucumber
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  • Chicago Pickling (Cucumber)
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  • Mexican Sour Gherkins (Mouse Melons)
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  • Homemade Pickles Cucumber
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  • Spacemaster Cucumber
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