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Even ‘Black Thumbs’ Can Grow Cucumbers

March 9, 2018, 11:43 AM HST
* Updated September 8, 10:57 AM
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Cucumbers love to ramble—they do exceptionally well when trained on a trellis or fence. PC: J.M. Buck.

Seeing a gourd being played as an instrument to accompany hula, it’s hard to visualize the common cucumber as being in the same family as gourds, watermelon, pumpkin, zucchini and other types of squash.

All cucumbers, are in the Cucurbit family and are in the genus Begonia, save one, Hillebrandia sandwicensis, which is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and is its own species. Though you may not be able to easily beat out a dance rhythm with a cucumber, you can certainly grow them in a container or garden plot with ease.

Believed to be endemic to India, historical records reveal Cucumis sativus being cultivated in Western Asia for 3,000 years. Other historical accounts of cucumbers in ancient times include the legend of Gilgamesh, and cucumbers were listed among the foods of ancient Ur.

Cukes were later carried into to Egypt along trade routes and became a prized vegetable in the early Roman and Greek civilizations.

Here’s a piece of trivia for you: the phrase “cool as a cucumber” was first written in 1732 by English poet and playwright John Gay in his poem, A New Song.

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Cucumbers grow well in most tropical and subtropical climates. In Hawai‘i, cucumbers will grow year-round from sea level to 3,000 feet in elevation. Above 3,000 feet,they should be grown between April and October, as cukes grown at high elevations often become bitter during the winter months.

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Many cucumber plants produce rapidly growing vines that will clamber over just about anything in their way. This can be good if you have a trellis or a rock wall for them to climb on. If not, some recently developed bush varieties may suit better if you have no place for a vertical climber.

Cucumbers, like most vegetables like full sun and a fluffy, rich, loamy soil. A pH of 5.5 to 6.8 is optimum. Good drainage is essential, as they won’t tolerate water standing around their roots.

Conversely, cucumbers require frequent watering. Remember that they are composed of 95% water, so inadequate hydration can lead to crops shriveling on the vine before they reach maturity.

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I personally know “black thumbs” who have had great luck with climbing cucumbers, both in pots and in the ground. They also grow well hydroponically.

One of the keys to success is training the rambling vines onto a trellis or piece of fence. Any kind of mesh like hog wire or chicken wire will do the trick, too. You can tack mesh to a couple of strips of wood on a sunny lānai wall, lash it to a couple of branches stuck in the ground in a garden—you get the idea.

To train climbing cukes, loosely fasten the vines to the trellis or whatever you are using with twist ties. When the plants reach the maximum height that you want them to climb to, snip off the end of the vine. Be sure to snip off dead leaves as they appear.

If you are using in an established garden plot, it is advisable to plant where legumes were previously grown. If you cannot, add some coffee grounds or an organic high-nitrogen fertilizer to the soil before planting.

Cucumbers seem to be a favorite food of the fruit fly, and crops can succumb to fruit fly maggot infestations. A good way to keep fruit flies at bay is to periodically spray your cucumbers with a soap solution. A thick mixture of dish liquid and water will do the trick. Be sure to re-apply after rain. They are also prone to powdery mildew. To treat for mildew and insect pests, mix ½ teaspoon of baking soda to one gallon of mild soap solution and spray on both sides of leaves.

Harvest cucumbers as they come ready. If they are left on the vine after they are mature, production will slow down and can even stop.

Happy gardening!

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