1. Cukes like a pH around 6.8, sun and moist soil high in organic matter (compost and well-rotted manure). They do well in raised beds.
2. Although they need plenty of sun, cukes do not do well in high heat where temperatures are routinely in the high 90s. If your area gets high summer temps, sow seeds in a location with filtered afternoon shade or protect plants with shade cloth.
3. You will get the best results if seeds are sown directly in ground when the soil temperature is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit and all danger of frost has passed. Use black plastic mulch to warm up the soil if necessary. Follow the spacing directions on seed packets.
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4. In a short-season climate, you can sow seeds indoors in peat pots, keeping the temperature between 70 and 80 degrees during the day and 60 at night. Plant peat pots directly in the ground when soil has warmed up since cukes do not like their roots being disturbed.
5. Since cukes are 95-percent water, be sure to keep the soil around them damp but not soggy. Drip irrigation is the best way to apply water since overhead sprinkling causes mildew and other diseases.
6. Use row covers to get vines off to a good start and protect them from pests. Be sure to remove them when plants start to flower.
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7. Reflective silver mulch deters aphids, whiteflies and reduces the number of cucumber beetles that cause problems. Striped cucumber beetles like radishes, so plant some near your cukes to lure them away. Pick off beetles by hand.
8. Train cukes to go up, not sprawl on the ground. Not only will you save space, but vines will be healthier.
9. To avoid bitter cukes, keep them happy. A compound called cucurbitacin causes bitterness. It is high in wild cucumbers but shows up in domestic varieties when plants are under stress—if temperatures are too high or too low, vines are thirsty or the pH is too low. You can also buy “bitterless” varieties and the so-called “burpless” ones have less cucurbitacin.
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10. As a rule, cucurbitacin is always more concentrated in the skin and the light green area just beneath it at the stem end of a cuke than it is at the blossom end.
11. Keep the area around your vines weed free to discourage diseases that weeds harbor and can pass along.
12. Harvest cucumbers before they mature and get overripe. A vine’s goal is to grow seeds, so if the seeds on even one cuke mature, the vine will stop producing.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.