Friday, July 25, 2014

Growing Cucumbers in Containers

As many of you know, cucumbers are one of my absolute favorite things in the garden. Of course so are peppers! And tomatoes! And the herbs! But I digress. There’s just nothing like the crisp, sweet, delicate flavor of a freshly picked homegrown cucumber. It will spoil you though, and those watery logs you buy at the store just won’t seem the same.

Sikkim Cucumber plant
This year I am growing 3 varieties: Marketmore, Lemon, and Sikkim. Lemons I have grown before, and if you’ve never tried them I highly recommend them. They are large vines that produce round fruit roughly the size of a lime, but as they mature they turn from an ivory color to a dark yellow (thus the name “lemon”). Contrary to their namesake they are a slightly sweet cucumber—perfect for munching or adding to a salad. I prefer to harvest them before they turn dark yellow, as the skin will get tough and if you let them go long enough the fruit will get a bit tough as well. They also make incredible pickles because they hold their crispness well.

The other two types are new to me this year. Ever year since I have had a garden I have grown Straight 8 cucumbers, but as you know from reading the blog they were absolutely inundated with powdery mildew every summer. After fighting the mildew with sprays, tonics, home remedies, and aggressive pruning I decided to search out a mildew resistant variety, which led me to the Marketmore.
Lemon Cucumber

So far I have harvested one Marketmore cucumber, and it was tasty. It was probably about 7 inches long, and I think it would have kept growing had I let it. The favor was good (a bit strong) and the skin is tough, so this is one you’ll probably want to peel. The flavor probably mellows and becomes sweeter as they mature, so I am going to see how big the next few get. There are two things I love about this plant. One, it gets HUGE. As you can see from the picture below it is growing up the side of the house (I have 3 plants in a 7 gallon pot). It quickly grew to the top of the tomato cage and began its ascent toward the roof. It is also quite a heavy yielder, as there are probably 20-25 cucumbers on the plant between 3 and 5 inches long, and 2-3 that are around 7 inches. It is also loaded with flowers and very small cukes, so we’ll be making some pickles!

Perhaps equally important: not a single spore of my powdery nemesis! I can tell you without hesitation that this plant is mildew resistant, as my Straight 8 cukes would be dead by now (or close to it) without constant spraying and pruning. I have done absolutely nothing to control or prevent mildew this year, and the plants are extremely healthy and productive. I did see a few leaves with the early signs of mildew on the bottom of the Lemon cucumber plant, but I just pruned them off and I haven’t noticed more. That is right next to the Marketmore (and even growing intertwined with it) and there have been absolutely no signs of it spreading.

Lemon Cucumber (left) and Marketmore Cucumber (right)

Last but not least, one of my “I have to try that!” plants: the Sikkim Cucumber. What a cool looking fruit! The plant looks like any other cucumber, and the young cucumbers look like any other young cucumber. I was starting to wonder if I got the wrong seeds. However, as the fruits mature they begin to turn yellowish orange, and eventually are covered in a melon-like brown skin. That’s when they are ready (although I have read you can eat them anytime). The one in the photo below is just starting to develop the cantaloupe-like skin that makes these distinctive. Once I harvest expect a fill write up! I can also vouch for the mildew resistance of the Sikkim, as I have seen no mildew at all. Again, this is with no special steps taken to prevent it.

Tiny Sikkim Cuke (bottom) and larger Sikkim cucumber just starting to develop its distinctive color and skin pattern
 In terms of container size and watering, you will want a large container. The bigger the better. Cucumbers get huge and need a lot of water, which is why you want a large container. The more dirt the more water it can hold for the plants, and the more nutrients are available as well. I have mine in 7 gallon pots, but that is because I live upstairs so I am wary of using pots that are too heavy. I would rather use two 7 gallon pots and grow 2 different kinds of cucumbers than one 14 gallon pot and only get to try one. A 7 gallon pot is still quite large and I have to water the cucumbers every day unless it pours (a little sprinkle will barely wet the dirt as the leaves form a tight canopy). A bigger container would mean less watering and probably even larger plants. I also use a tomato cage for the vines to climb because I use round pots, although a trellis could also work if you used something longer and narrower.  

I typically water every night, and I am very careful to water only the dirt in order to keep the plants dry. Wet conditions are wonderful for mildew, and as we’ve been through already there are few garden problems I can’t treat or deal with, but mildew seems to be one of them. So keep the leaves dry by watering just the dirt. Plus, once the cucumbers get as big as you see in the photos above, watering the leaves will result in most of the water running off onto the deck and never making it to the thirsty roots.

One final note on watering: don’t worry if you skip a day and find your cucumbers wilted. They will wilt, and sometimes so badly you think you’ve killed the plant. This happened to me today in fact. Since it rained yesterday I skipped my daily watering. This morning I went out to find the lemon cucumber so wilted I thought it was dead! I quickly watered the plant and within an hour it was back to looking like nothing happened. Don’t let this become a habit though. It weakens the plant (which invites the mildew) and can result in bitter cucumbers.
A developing Lemon Cucumber!
People often wonder how often to fertilize. I fertilize with Tomato Tone early in the season, and then switch to Miracle Gro tomato food (the pink powder) as the summer progresses. I fertilize with the Miracle Gro once every 10 days or so, but I go light on the mix—probably ½ of what it calls for. If I ever see a particular plant getting lime green I use some of the typical blue Miracle Gro plant food for a quick boost of nitrogen. Within a week it will be dark green again. I follow this regimen for the entire garden: cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants get the pink Miracle Gro. Cooking greens, herbs and flowers get the blue Miracle Gro (since the cooking greens and flowers don’t fruit). You can use one fertilizer for everything and be fine too; I just happen to have both since I have a lot of houseplants as well.

To sum up: grow cucumbers in your container garden! They are fun, very easy, heavy yielding, and there are countless varieties out there. Choose a variety that is mildew resistant. If you are in an area susceptible to powdery mildew avoid Straight 8 (as much as I love them) because you will have issues with it, and once it gets settled into your garden and kills off your Straight 8’s it finds a lot of other plants to infest that it might have otherwise passed over. And use a pot no smaller than 7 gallons for best results. A bigger pot buys you more of a buffer for water and nutrients, which is a tremendous benefit when you can’t always be home to water your plants every day.

Until next time, happy gardening!

No comments:

Post a Comment