Cucumbers are creeping vines that grow on the ground, or up trellises fences and other supporting frames. They have thin, spiraling tendrils that can cling to poles, wires and branches. They have large leaves which create a canopy over the fruit.
The fruit is approximately cylindrical, elongated, and has tapered ends. Fruit can reach 60 cm long and 10 cm in diameter in some varieties. Cucumbers grown for eating fresh (called slicers) and those grown for pickling (called picklers) are very similar.
|Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture|
Cucumber. Plate XXXI. The common cucumbers are derived from an Asian species, Cucumis sativus (see Cucumis), which has long been known in cultivation. The so-called West India gherkin, which is commonly classed with the cucumbers, is Cucumis Anguria. The snake, or serpent cucumber is more properly a muskmelon, and should be designated botanically as Cucumis Melo var. flexuosus (cf. A. G. 14:206). The "musk cucumber" is Cucumis moschata, Hort., which is probably identical with concombre musque1, referred to Sicana odorifera by Le Potager d'un Curieux, known in this country as cassabanana. The Mandera cucumber is Cucumis Sacleuxii, Paill. et Bois. (Pot. d'un Curieux). but it is not in cultivation in this country. None 01 these is of any particular importance except the common types of Cucumis sativus. These are extensively cultivated in all civilized countries as field and as garden crops. They come into commerce as pickles packed in bottles and barrels, and are very extensively used in this form. Of late, the forcing of cucumbers under glass has come to be an important industry in the eastern states.
The common cucumber is an important field and garden crop and may be classed as one of the standard crops of the vegetable-garden. The fruit is used as a table salad, eaten raw, with the usual salad seasonings, and is pickled in large quantities. The cucumber is pickled in both large and small sizes, both by the housewife and commercially on a large scale. The small fruit, of not more than a day or two's growth and measuring from 1 to 2 inches in length, makes the most desirable and delicate of pickles. These are packed in bottles for the commercial trade and bring fancy prices. Larger sizes are pickled and sold by the keg or barrel.
The cucumber is a .native of the tropics and tender of frost. It should be planted in a warm location, after danger from frost is past. For the early crop—and earliness is of prime importance to the commercial vegetable-grower—a sandy soil is preferable, supplied with an abundance of well-rotted stable manure. The seed may be sown in hills 3 feet apart with rows 6 feet apart, or may be planted by machine (the common seed-drill) in drills 6 feet apart. In either case, an abundance of seed should be used, for severe injury by insect pests often occurs in the early stages of the cucumber's life. Plants may be started under glass to hasten maturity. The seed is sometimes sown in pots or baskets or in inverted sods and these protected and so managed that the cucumber plant receives those conditions most suitable to its rapid and healthy growth. These conditions are: a temperature between 60° and 65° at night, which may be allowed to rise to 100° in bright sunshine; an ample supply of moisture; sufficient ventilation, without draft, to prevent a soft brittle growth. It is almost impossible to transplant cucumber seedlings and secure satisfactory results if the roots are disturbed. A glass-covered frame may be used over seed planted in the field, and yields good returns on labor and equipment. Any method whereby marketable cucumbers may be obtained a few days earlier, if not extravagant of time apd labor, will pay handsomely.
The cucumber, in the field, should yield marketable fruits in seven to eight weeks from seed and continue in profitable bearing until frost. It is customary among commercial growers to allow two or three plants to the hill, and when grown in drills, one plant is left every 18 to 24 inches.
During the height of the growing season, which is usually in August when the days are hot and nights moist and warm, the cucumbers need to be picked every day. The fruit is ready to harvest when it is well filled out, nearly cylindrical in shape. When immature it is somewhat furrowed. When allowed to remain too long, it becomes swollen in its middle portion and cannot be sold as first quality. Cucumbers are marketed by the dozen, the field crop often bringing as much as 60 cents a dozen at the first and selling as low as 5 cents a dozen at the glut of the market.
The cucumber plant is affected by serious insect pests and fungous diseases. Of the insect pests, the striped cucumber beetle is the most serious and difficult to combat. It feeds on the leaves, usually on the under sides, and appears soon after the cucumber seedlings break ground. This cucumber beetle seems to be little affected by the common remedies for chewing insects. This is probably largely due to its activity, the beetle moving to unpoisoned parts of the plant, and also to the fact that rarely, in commercial practice, is the under side of the leaves thoroughly poisoned. Arsenate of lead applied in more than ordinary strength is the most satisfactory remedy. Hammond's Slug Shot, dusted lightly over the plants, will drive the bugs away, while a teaspoonful of paris green mixed with two pounds of flour makes also an excellent mixture with which to fight the bugs. Or cover the young plants with small wire or hoop frames, over which fine netting is stretched. If the plants are kept quite free from attack till these protectors are outgrown, they will usually suffer little damage. Plants started in hotbeds or greenhouses may usually be kept free at first, and this is the chief advantage of such practices. The cucumber beetles are kept away somewhat at times by strewing tobacco stems thickly under the plants; and kerosene emulsion will sometimes discommode the young squash bugs without killing the vines, but usually not. What is known as the cucumber blight (Pseudoperonospora cubensis) has done much to discourage the growth of cucumbers. This fungus may be repulsed by thorough spraying with bordeaux and the plants should be kept covered with bordeaux throughout their growth. This will require at least three or four sprayings. The growth of the vines, which usually completely covers the ground, prevents late sprayings, which are often necessary to maintain healthy growth and insure maximum returns.
The common field varieties most popular in the United States grown for a slicing cucumber are of the White Spine type. Many of the so-called White Spine varieties now on the market are not typical of the original White Spine cucumber, which is a fruit averaging about 6 inches in length, rather blunt on both ends, with white prickles appearing at frequent intervals over the surface. The seed end is light-colored, in mature specimens almost white with whitish stripes extending toward the stem end from one-third to one- half the length of the cucumber. What is often catalogued as the Improved White Spine has become more popular among growers within recent years. This type possesses some of the characteristics of the popular English type of cucumber known as the Telegraph. The improved type has been obtained by crossing the White Spine with the Telegraph or some closely related variety. This cross has resulted in an increased length and darker green color, with a fewer number of spines and seeds and a more common tapering of the ends. All of these changes have apparently been beneficial and have been well fixed by careful selection. This is well illustrated by the cucumber of the White Spine type sold as Woodruff Hybrid.
The English type of cucumbers is raised on a small scale in this country but infrequently for market purposes.
Farcing of cucumbers. The commercial production of cucumbers under glass has assumed large proportions. This crop ranks second in commercial importance among greenhouse-grown vegetable crops, lettuce only exceeding it in importance. The cucumber crop is ordinarily grown in the spring of the year after two or three crops of lettuce nave been removed, and it continues to occupy the ground until the vines cease bearing, due either to poor management, pests or some similar trouble. The cucumber should come into bearing six to eight weeks after setting in the houses. It is the customary plan to plant the seed in 4- to 6-inch clay pots about two weeks before the house to be used is ready for setting. These1 pots are often placed over manure heat and should always be in a warm house separate from the lettuce. Two weeks should be sufficient to allow the plant a good start, two or three pairs of leaves being all the development desired before setting in the permanent location. Careful management is essential to a healthy growth, for many pests prove more serious in the glasshouse than in the field. A night temperature not below 60° F. is very essential, while the day temperature may go to 90° I4. without danger in bright sunshine. The appearance of the plants will immediately indicate, to the experienced observer, the conditions under which the crop has been grown. A short stocky growth between joints with dark green foliage is desirable. There are localities in which growers make cucumbers the all-the-year- round crop in the glasshouse, usually growing crops from two seedings during the entire season. It requires more skill to produce good cucumbers during the fall and winter months than from February on, and the yield is much lighter in the late fall and early winter than for the spring crop. All cucumbers require an abundance of moisture and food. It has become a common practice in certain sections to mulch the cucumber vines in the greenhouse with good quality strawy manure to the depth of 3 or 4 inches and apply the water directly on the manure. This practice eliminates the packing and puddling of the soil often caused by direct heavy watering, increases the supply of readily available plant-food and gives the roots a good opportunity to grow near the surface where air is available and still be protected from the drying out which occurs when the soil is directly exposed to the sun.
The pruning and training of the cucumbers in the greenhouse is of much importance. A number of methods are in common use, one of the most common and practical of which is: Stretch a wire tightly the length of the house at the base of the plants which may be set in rows 3 feet apart and 18 inches to 2 feet apart hi the rows; fasten at the base of each plant a soft but strong twine known in tobacco-growing sections as tobacco twine, securing this single twine to an overhead wire running parallel and directly over the ground wire, but not stretching the string tight. As the cucumber plant grows, it is twined about this string to which it clings by tendrils. When the plant reaches the upper wire it is either allowed to grow at will over wires provided for an overhead support and from which the cucumbers usually hang down where they can be easily picked, or it is pruned and the encouragement of fruiting along the upright stem continued. In the meantime more or less fruit has been harvested and at each joint a lateral branch has appeared. It is necessary to cut these off. Some growers prefer to take them off back to the maul stem, while others, if a cucumber is obtainable on the first joint of the lateral, nip the lateral just beyond this point. "In the greenhouse, cucumbers are liable to damage from mite, aphis, root-gall and mildew. For the mite, syringe the plant and pick off the infested Lvs.; for aphis, use tobacco fumigation and pick infested Lvs.; for root-gall, use soil which has been thoroughly frozen; for mildew, improve the sanitary conditions, and then use sulfur."—Bailey, "Forcing-Book." Yields of twenty-five to one hundred and twenty-five cucumbers have been secured from single plants. The expert growers, under normally good circumstances, may expect to obtain a yield of six to seven dozen marketable cucumbers from a plant.
Varieties of cucumber. There are a great many varieties of cucumbers in cultivation. This means that the group is variable, the varieties comparatively unstable, and varietal distinctions somewhat uncertain. Nevertheless, there are certain dominant types which may be separated, and around which most of the varieties may be conveniently classified. The principal types are the following:
Common cucumber, Cucumis aatitus. I. English forting type (var. anglicus): Fig. 1122. Large-lvd., strong-growing, slow-maturing plants, not suited to outdoor cult.: fr. large, long, smooth, usually green, with few or early- deciduous black spines. Telegraph, Sion House, Tailby Hybrid, Kenyon, Lome, Edinburgh, Blue Gown. II. Field varieties (hill or ridge cucumbers). a. Black Spine varieties.
1. Netted Russian type: Small, short-jointed vines, bearing more or less in clusters, small, ellipsoidal fr. covered with many small, black, deciduous spines: fr. green, ripening to dark reddish yellow, on a cracking, chartaceous skin. Early-maturing and prolific. Netted Russian, Everbearing, New Siberian, Parisian Prolific Pickle.
2. Early Cluster type: Small or medium vines: fr. small. usually less than twice as long as thick, indistinctly ribbed, green, ripening yellow, with scattered, large, black spines. Early Cluster, Early Frame.
3. Medium Green type: Intermediate in size of vine and fr. between the last and next: fr. about twice as long as thick, green, ripening yellow, with scattering, large black spines. Nichols Medium. Green, Chicago Pickle.
4. Long Green type: One of the best fixed types, representing, perhaps, one of the more primitive stages in the evolution of the group. Vines large, long and free-growing: fr. large and long, green, ripening yellow, with scattered, large, black spines. Long Green, Japanese Climbing. b. White Spine varieties.
5. White Spine type: A strong and important type: plants medium large, vigorous: fr. medium large, about thrice as long as thick, green, ripening white, with scattering, large, white spines. There are many selected strains of White Spine. Cool and Crisp, Davis Perfect and Fordhook Famous belong here. G. Giant Pora type: Mostly poorly fixed varieties, having large rather unthrifty vines, bearing large frs. tardily and sparsely, which are white or whitish, smooth or with scattering, deciduous, usually white spines. Chicago Giant, Goli: Wonder, Long Green China. Sikkim cucumber, Cucumis sativus var. sikkimensis. Plant small and stocky, much like the common cucumber: fr. large, reddish brown marked with yellow. (The Egyptian hair cucumber, of Haage & Schmidt, as we have grown it, is apparently an odd form of Cucumis sativus, and may belong here. It has a medium-sized white fr., densely covered with soft, white hair. The plant resembles the Sikkim cucumber.) Not in general cult.
Snake or Serpent cucumber. Cucumis Melo var. flexuosus. Vines resembling those of muskmelon: fr. very long, twisted, ribbed- cylindrical, green, tardily yellowing, covered with dense, woolly hairs. West India gherkin, Cucumis Anguria. Figs. 1127, 1128. Vines small and slender, somewhat resembling a slender watermelon plant: fr. very abundant, small, ellipsoid, covered with warts and spines, green, tardily whitening. Good for pickles.
These varieties are mostly all good for one purpose or another. The small sorts are naturally preferred for pickling, the medium sorts for slicing, and the large, late varieties for ripe fruits. The White Spine varieties are great favorites for slicing, and only less so for pickling. F. A. Wauqh. H. F. Tompson.
Plants often need at least 25 square feet, though they can be grown on walls and trellis' to save space. Along fences they can be planted 1-3 feet apart, allowing the main stem to grow to the top. Bush varieties are much more compact, and don't require much space.
Covering cucumber rows with a protective row cover while they're seedlings will reduce pests like the cucumber beetle and flea beetle. Covers must be removed when flowering begins to allow pollination.
Warm air is needed for pollinationsn. Most cucumbers require pollination, which is is more than adequately provided by various bees. Some varieties, like English cucumbers, must not be pollinated, which is detrimental to the fruit. They are usually grown in greenhouses to avoid bees. Misshapen fruit is usually due to poor pollination, or uneven wateringsn. Some varieties are all or mostly female flowers, producing more fruit. These may either require other varieties interplanted for pollination, or be self-fertile like 'Sweet Success'.
Harvest cucumbers while young to encourage fruit productionsn.
Grown from seed. Seeds require warm soil to sproutsn. Sprout indoors to get a head-start on the growing season outdoors, and extend the fruiting period. Outdoors plant seeds 1 to 2 weeks after the average date of the last frostsn, 1 inch deep in the soilsn.
Pests and diseases
Cucumbers are prone to cucumber beetles, flee beetles and whiteflies.
- Slicers grown commercially for the North American market are generally longer, smoother, more uniform in color, and have a tougher skin. Slicers in other countries are smaller and have a thinner, more delicate skin.
- Armenian - up to 3 feet long, curving, pale green, ribbed, thin skin (no need to peel), technically a melon. Best when under a foot long.
- Orientals - long, slim, very mild
- English cucumbers can grow as long as 2 feet. They are nearly seedless and are sometimes marketed as "Burpless," as the seeds give some people gas.
- Mediterranean cucumbers are small, smooth-skinned and mild. Like the English cucumber, Mediterranean cucumbers are nearly seedless.
- In North America the term "wild cucumber" refers to manroot.
Bush cucumbers are varieties the are compact, and need relatively little spacesn.
Cucumbers can be pickled for the taste, and to extend their shelf life. While pickling cucumbers can be eaten fresh, and often are (like 'Kirby' or 'Liberty'), they usually tend to be shorter, thicker, less regularly-shaped, and have bumpy skin with tiny white- or black-dotted spines. They should never be waxed, but color is not important. They are often harvested very young, like the tiny gherkins used for sweet pickles.