Trying to Grow Cucumbers to Perfection
26th Jun 1997
Cucumbers are not the easiest of vegetables to grow to a high standard, indeed I don't think any vegetable is so easy to grow that you can attain top standards without putting in a great deal of knowledge and effort. They are certainly a must for me as I may well need them in collections should any of the regular twenty pointed vegetables not make the grade. Cucumbers are an eighteen pointed vegetable, but it should always be considered on balance against a twenty pointer, particularly if they have been grown really well as they can often be awarded high marks from the judge.
They are not easy to grow to perfection, but if you can manage to get near that term, then they make a striking dish as part of any vegetable display with their flowers being still attached to prove how fast and fresh they have been grown. Many people ask me if they can grow both tomatoes and cucumbers in the same greenhouse, this has always been a perennial question and my answer is always the same, yes you can, but only to a limited standard.
If you want cucumbers or tomatoes purely for kitchen use then they will give you a very adequate crop on a regular basis. The fact however is that if you intend to grow both crops to the highest of standards you then must have them in different houses or separate the one house into two growing areas so that they can both grow to maturity in their correct environment.
Cucumbers love to grow in a hot humid, indeed steamy, atmosphere where a cucumber will grow from an inch to show standard in a matter of about a fortnight with the flower still attached and often in full bloom. Tomatoes on the other hand are part of the solanum family, the same as the potato, and in most parts of the country will grow very well outdoors in a South facing location. They therefore need a drier atmosphere with plenty of air movement and from my experience trying to give both plants a mean growing condition will often lead to the tomato succumbing to botrytis rather than major problems occurring with the Cucumbers.
Mine are grown in a separate greenhouse to the tomatoes using my usual ring culture system on top of Gro bags utilising two plastic ring culture pots per bag with a smaller bottomless pot in between to act as a reservoir for watering and feeding. The variety that I shall grow this year will be Carmen, the one that has had a lot of success at national level in the past couple of years. To satisfy the judging criteria as laid down in the RHS judging show handbook, cucumbers have to be young, tender, straight of uniform thickness, and very importantly, with short handles; Carmen fits this criteria in every aspect.
What most top growers such as Charles Maissey do is to create this perfect humid growing condition by laying down plenty of partly rotted straw underneath the plants which are regularly kept soaking wet with a hosepipe to such an extent that if you are wearing glasses and entering the house, they will immediately steam up.
Keeping cucumbers free from marks is another vital task that has to be observed from day one, a tiny mark when the fruits are small will render it useless for serious competition as that mark will increase is size in proportion to the fruit size.
The main culprit for the marks more often than anything else is the parent plant itself, with either the rough stalks or the sharp jagged edges of the leaves regularly leaving scratch marks which spoils the whole appearance of the fruit. Make sure as soon as the fruits have set that it is allowed to hang free and perfectly straight, at this young stage you can very carefully, and on a daily basis, manipulate and gently bend the fruits until they are straight. If you don"t do this the probability is that they will end up bent when approaching maturity and then beyond straightening. At this point as well keep the fruit clear of any leaves by cutting out those that are likely to rub against the fruit. When developing I have seen Charles Maissey wrap some soft cotton wool like sheets around the fruits to be absolutely certain that no scratch marks can occur.