If space is a constraint, cucumbers can be grown vertically by using stakes, says Thilaka Baskaran
Next to onions, tomatoes and cabbage, cucumber is the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable in the world. It has been farmed in India for over 4,000 years and large genetic varieties of cucumber have been observed in different parts of India.
There are strong indications that cucumber was first cultivated in India, following which it spread to the Middle East, Europe and reached America in the 1500s.
Basically, there are two types of cucumbers — those that we slice and eat, and the other variety which we use for pickling, called gherkins. India grows a large amount of gherkins mainly for export and it is rarely seen in the local markets. The slicing cucumber can also be used for pickling if picked young.
Warm and tropical
The cucumber plant loves warmth and does well in the tropical climate the whole year through. It needs adequate sunlight, well-drained soil and plenty of water. To grow cucumber, dig a pit and put in plenty of compost and well-rotted manure in 30-cm square pits 30-cm deep. Keep the mounds 90 cm apart. Push two or three seeds in each mound to a depth of 2 cm down into the soil. When the seedlings have produced two or three leaves, retain the healthiest plant and remove the rest.
Stages of growth
If space is a constraint to let them spread on the ground, provide stakes or a trellis and grow them vertically. Pinching out the growing tips encourages branching and increases flower and fruit production. Side dress the plants once it starts flowering.
Cucumber plants have a high requirement of water. The roots are very shallow and require ample soil moisture at all stages of growth. If you have ever bitten into a bitter cucumber, you know it is not something you would want to do again. The bitterness in cucumber is believed to be due to lack of watering. Misshapen fruits, also caused by lack of water, tend to be more bitter. From planting to harvesting, cucumbers take about 60 to 70 days. Pick them when they are tender and crunchy. They are at their best when just about 20 cm long. Regular picking promotes continued production. With its high water content, it is an ideal vegetable for the summer.
Powdery mildew, a common pest in cucumber, may be seen on the leaves. Most of the hybrid seeds sold in the market are now treated against it. A small fruit that turns yellow and falls from the plant has probably not successfully pollinated.
Cucumber is a very low-calorie vegetable and provides just 15 calories for 100 grams. It is a good source of potassium. Thanks to its cooling property, slices of cucumber are placed on irritated skin, and over tired eyes. It is used extensively in skin care in face packs and facials.