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Outdoor Cucumbers

UK Garden Centre - Information about Outdoor Cucumbers

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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.

Seed facts
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 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Not easy – soil has to be prepared and regular watering and feeding are needed.

Soil facts
· 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.

Calendar
· 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.

Harvesting
· 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.

Varieties
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.

All-Female varieties
An interesting development – these cucumbers do not require fertilization and so the mass of seeds which characterise outdoor cucumbers is not present.
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 of seeds.

Japanese varieties
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 or poles.
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 supermarket shelf.
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.

Gherkin varieties
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 Pickling.

Apple varieties
This group is extremely unusual – small, round and yellow. The flavour and juiciness are outstanding.
Crystal Apple: The only variety you are likely to find listed – prolific and easy to grow.

Cucurbit Troubles (Cucumber, Marrow, Courgette, Squash, Pumpkin)
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
No Fruit
Poor Yield
Eelworm
Root Rot
Grey Mould (Botrytis)
Gummosis
Anthracnose
Slugs and Snails
Mice
Sclerotinia Rot
Black Rot
Withering of young fruit
Bitterness
Blotch
Stem Rot
Verticillium Wilt
Red Spider Mite
Powdery Mildew
Sun Scald


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