Thursday, December 1, 2022

Fall cucumbers

Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is in the squash family (Cucurbitaceae) and is more closely related to melons than the squashes, which are in the Cucurbita genus. It's native to India but has been under cultivation as a crop for about 3,000 years. Now, it is widely cultivated around the world.

Male and female cucumber flowers. The female flower sits atop a small, preformed fruit. If the flower is not adequately pollinated, then the fruit will not expand, turn yellow, and fall off the vine.
A productive cucumber vine.

The cucumber is a vine that can crawl on the ground but is usually trellised when grown as a crop. to save space and keep the fruit clean and away from soil-borne pests. Cucumber is monoecious with separate female and male flowers on each vine. Most vines produce many male flowers before any female flowers are produced. Most people think that this strategy is to bring pollinators into the area, so that when they produce the female flowers that they will be more likely to be pollinated so that a fruit will develop. If a female flower is not pollinated, the little fruit at the base of the flower will not increase in size, and then turn yellow and fall off the plant. The cucumber fruit is a pepo, a type of berry with a hard outer rind and no internal divisions.

Growing cucumbers in Florida

Cucumbers are susceptible to fungal diseases, so they do not do well in Florida's hot wet summers. In Florida we sow seeds in early spring so there is time to get a good crop before summer sets in and then again in early fall so there is time for harvesting before the first frost. Cucumber fruits are 95% water and require extra irrigation to produce a good crop. I create swales between the planting sites, so the water has a place to sink into the soil. I also use this method of planting for okra and tomatoes. Read my Okra swales article for the details on how I set this up.

Our fall cucumbers seemed to take longer than usual to finally begin producing female flowers. Fall cucumber crop inside some wire fencing to keep it protected from the deer.

I was slow in installing the wire cages for trellising the cucumbers this year and the deer chewed off their tops, so I installed a large group of cages around the three swales. As they grew larger, I added wire fencing around the cages up off the ground and have been festooning trimmings from my garlic chives on the fencing and cages, so the cucumbers smell more like garlic chives, which the deer never eat. So far, this strategy of both a physical barrier and odor distraction has worked to keep the deer away. 

The other possible problem with growing a fall crop is melon worms and squash borers, because the weather is warm when you start them, so if you end up with an infestation, spray once a week or so with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is a commonly occurring soil bacterium, but make sure that you get the variety that kills caterpillars. This is allowed in organic gardens. Use only on days with no chance of rain and will little or no wind. It works best if sprayed in late afternoon, because it breaks down in the hot sun. 

We had cucumbers for Thanksgiving and expect to also have a nice harvest for Christmas unless we receive a frost between now and then. 

Cucumber swales after mulching with pine needles to keep in the moisture and reduces weed growth. Plant two or three seeds in each planting site around the rim of the swales to ensure that at least one vine in each site.
Part of a bountiful Thanksgiving harvest: Roselle, lime basil, and fall cucumbers. There are so many good ways to use cucumbers, including this dill-infused cucumber salad.

So, I hope you are enjoying your cool-weather vegetable harvesting. It's our best season for veggies here in Florida. If you need help growing crops in Florida, I've written more than 50 articles on this topic, which are linked on my Green Resources Page. Growing more food is good for your family and it's good for our only planet, because every pound of food you grow (or buy from local sources) offsets up to two pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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