Until the recent demand
for organically grown vegetables the outdoor or
ridge cucumber was the poor country cousin of
the much more elegant greenhouse cucumber with
its long and straight-sided fruits favoured by
the supermarkets. The outdoor types were short
and dumpy fruits covered with bumps and warts,
but things have changed. There are now outdoor
varieties which are unrivalled for flavour and
juiciness, varieties from which the indigestibility
has been eradicated. The outdoor cucumber has
come of age and there is no longer any need to
grow this vegetable under glass in order to obtain
reasonably smooth and reasonably long fruits.
The name ‘ridge cucumber’ comes from
the old habit of growing them on raised beds or
ridges – these days they are usually grown
on the flat. The plants are climbers like their
greenhouse cousins – outdoors the vines
are left to scramble along the ground or are supported
by netting, posts, bamboo poles etc.
Expected germination time: 6-9 days
Expected yield per plant: 10 cucumbers
Life expectancy of stored seed: 6 years.
Approximate time between sowing and cutting: 12-14
Ease of cultivation: Not easy – soil has
to be prepared and regular watering and feeding
· A sunny spot protected from strong winds
is essential – outdoor cucumbers are neither
hardy nor long-suffering.
· The soil must be well drained and rich
in humus. Most households will need only a few
plants, so prepare planting pockets as explained
below about 2 weeks before seed sowing or planting.
Sowing and Planting
· Dig holes 12in (30cm) deep and wide and
18in (45cm) apart and fill with a mixture of compost
or rotted manure and soil. Leave a low mound at
the top. Sprinkle fertilizer over surface and
scatter Slug Pellets between pockets.
· Sow 3 seed 1in (2.5cm) deep and a few
inches apart at the centre of each pocket. Cover
with a large jar or cloche to hasten germination.
When the first true leaves have appeared thin
out to leave the strongest seedling.
· Alternatively, you can raise the seedlings
indoors, but this method is less satisfactory.
Place a single seed edgeways ½ in (1cm)
deep in seed compost in a 3in (7in) pot. Keep
at 70-80°F (21-26°C) until germinated
– gradually harden off seedlings before
planting in pockets outdoors. Disturb the roots
as little as possible when planting out –
water in thoroughly.
· Sow outdoors in late May or early June.
In the Midlands and northern areas cover the seedlings
with cloches if you can for a few weeks. Cropping
should start in early August to late September.
· For an earlier crop sow seeds under glass
in late April. Plant out the seedlings in early
June when the danger of frost has passed. These
can be cropped from late July to August.
Looking after the crop
· Pinch out the growing tip when the plants
have developed 6 or 7 leaves. Side shoots will
then develop, and these can be left to trail over
the ground or be trained up stout netting. Any
shoots not bearing flowers should be pinched out
at the 7th leaf.
· Keep the soil moist. Water around the
plants, not over them. Mist lightly in dry weather.
· Place black polythene over the soil in
summer before fruit formation. This will raise
soil temperature, conserve moisture, keep down
weeds and protect the fruit from rot.
· Once the first fruits have started to
swell, feed with liquid tomato fertilizer.
· Fertilization is essential – never
remove the male flowers.
· Don’t try to grow record-breaking
fruits. They should be cut before they reach maximum
size, as this will encourage further fruiting.
Most types will be 6-8in (15-20cm) long, gherkins
4in (10cm) long and apple cucumbers the size of
a duck’s egg.
· Use a sharp knife – don’t
tug the fruits from the stem. The harvesting period
is quite short, as the plants will be killed by
the first frosts. Despite this, good soil, proper
care and continuous picking will result in many
more fruit per plant than the yield obtained from
a greenhouse cucumber.
Standard Ridge varieties
The traditional varieties are thick and medium-sized,
with a rough, knobbly surface. In recent years
a number of F1 hybrids have appeared offering
a better shape, improved hardiness, less disease
and extra length.
Bedfordshire Prize: The old favourite is still
around, but you will no longer find it in many
catalogues. Really, its day is over.
King of the Ridge: A popular variety, bearing
fruits that are almost spineless.
Burpee Hybrid: Vigorous and prolific – an
excellent choice. The 9in (23cm) cucumbers have
a smooth, dark green skin and the plant is noted
for its reliability.
Marion: Look for this F1 hybrid if virus has been
a problem in the past.
Zeppelin: The fruits are the giants of the Standard
Ridge group, according to the suppliers.
Patio Pik: The popular dwarf of the group –
it takes up very little space and can be grown
as a pot plant. Prolific despite its size –
25 cucumbers per plant is not unusual.
An interesting development – these cucumbers
do not require fertilization and so the mass of
seeds which characterise outdoor cucumbers is
Sweet Success: Long fruits which are usually seedless.
The flesh is claimed to be burp-free. Good resistance
to powdery mildew.
Amslic: Like Sweet Success, the plants have good
disease resistance and there is a general absence
Included here are the longest and smoothest-skinned
of all outdoor cucumbers. The long-fruited varieties
should be trained up a stout frame of netting
Chinese Long Green: Smooth-skinned fruits which
grow about 1ft (30cm) long.
Kyoto: Another variety which produces long, straight
and smooth cucumbers to rival the ones on the
Burpless Tasty Green: This is the one to pick,
according to most experts. The fruits are not
giants like most other Japanese varieties –
cut them when they are about 9in (23cm) long and
enjoy the crisp, juicy flesh from which both bitterness
and indigestibility have been eradicated.
Tokyo Slicer: Shorter than Chinese Long Green
and Kyoto, but what this smooth and dark-skinned
cucumber lacks in length it makes up for in productivity.
These varieties produce small, warty fruits which
are used for pickling.
Venlo Pickling: The most widely recommended gherkin
but not necessarily the best. Each seed house
seems to have its own favourite variety and some
of these, such as Bestal, Hokus and Conda, are
claimed to be earlier and more prolific than Venlo
This group is extremely unusual – small,
round and yellow. The flavour and juiciness are
Crystal Apple: The only variety you are likely
to find listed – prolific and easy to grow.
Cucurbit Troubles (Cucumber, Marrow, Courgette,
Greenhouse cucumbers are a delicate crop, and
a host of bacterial and fungal infections can
attack them. Most of these troubles arise through
incorrect soil preparation or careless management
of the growing plants. Outdoor cucumbers and marrows
are much simpler to grow and are generally trouble-free,
although slugs, grey mould, powdery mildew and
cucumber mosaic virus can cause serious losses.
Cucumber Mosaic Virus
Grey Mould (Botrytis)
Slugs and Snails
Withering of young fruit
Red Spider Mite