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How to grow organic Cucumbers and Gherkins
by Frann Leach
Gherkins are really just a dwarf type of cucumber
Cucumbers and Gherkins
Family: Cucurbitaceae (Group 5)
Outdoor cucumbers are also known as ridge cucumbers because they were originally grown on ridges to ensure good drainage. The traditional varieties of ridge cucumber are shorter than supermarket cucumbers with rougher skin. Newer varieties have been developed which are longer and smoother, particularly Japanese hybrids which can reach 30cm (12") or more in length.
Unlike greenhouse cucumbers, outdoor types must usually be pollinated, although a few all-female types have been developed in recent years.
Cucumbers need a sunny, sheltered site, but will tolerate light shade in summer. The soil itself should be acid to neutral, very fertile and moisture retaining, and rich in organic matter. Like other members of the Family, the best way to prepare the soil is to incorporate large quantities of organic matter. The crop can also be grown in 25cm (10") pots or growbags. In the UK, it's necessary to provide protection for outdoor crops in the form of a cloche in the early stages.
Dig a hole 30cm (12") deep by 45cm (18") across, fill with well rotted compost or manure, and cover with 15-20cm (6-8") of soil to make a raised mound.
Recommended cultivarsBurpee hybrid - 23cm (9") cucumbers, reliable and prolific
Bush champion F1 - virus resistant good for grow bags
Paska F1 - 25cm (10") cucumbers, all female, resistant to powdery mildew
Jazzer F1 - 23cm (9") cucumbers, disease resistant, all female
Burpless Tasty Green - Japanese variety, 23cm (9") cucumbers
Tokyo Slicer - prolific Japanese variety
Venlo pickling - gherkin
Conda - gherkin
Can be grown flat or preferably with support, eg. trellis, wire netting or cane tripods.
Sow in pots or modules to minimise root disturbance in gentle heat in April. Seeds will not germinate at temperatures below 73ª F (23ª C). Sow on their sides 2-2.5cm (¾-1") deep. Transplant between the end of May and early June after hardening off. Protect with a cloche or horticultural fleece if possible in the early stages.
Alternatively, sow 2-3 seeds per station direct in mid to end May, depending on what area you live in, under individual cloches. [Note: Some say to use jam jars, but I advise against using them, as I found that often the soil sticks to the rim of the jar, so that when you lift it off, the seedling is rudely torn from the soil - not the desired result at all!]
Planting distances: climbers 45cm (18") apart, trailers 60-75cm (24-30").
Cucumbers need plenty of water, especially when fruiting. Pinch out climbers when they reach the top of their support. Do not remove male flowers, as no fruit will form without pollination.
The fruits should be ready to cut from July to September. Keep picking to ensure further production. Gherkins can be picked small for pickling or left to grow larger for use as cucumbers.
Pests and diseases
Aphids are the most serious outdoor pests and may transmit virus diseases. Leave for the predators or spray with derris or soft soap. French marigolds will discourage them.
Cucumber mosaic virus causes mottling of the leaves and hard bumps on the fruit. Remove and burn affected plants.
Powdery mildew may occur in dry summers, or crowded plantings. Cut off affected leaves and water well; increase aeration if possible.
Root rots are occasionally a problem. Rotation and careful watering are the best preventive measures.