Wednesday, January 7, 2015

End of Season Review - Cucumbers


Here we are at the start of a brand new year.  The holidays are over, the big after-Christmas cleanup is *almost* finished, kids are back at school and things are finally settling down.  Amid the Christmas dinners and New Year’s celebrations, we also had my daughter’s birthday, so our holidays are not so much spent relaxing as they are spent planning, preparing and, of course, celebrating.  And now that it's all said and done, I've come down with a cold...I suppose if I was going to catch a cold, this was the best time for it!

I usually order my seeds in mid-January – which is next week – time is just flying by!  In the meantime, I will do my best to wrap up my end of season reviews this week.  Well, that was the plan before this cold hit.  We will see how far I get.

Today I’m covering cucumbers and I will then move on to the peppers, root crops and squash.  Lastly, I will do brief summaries on the alliums, herbs & fruits.

Cucumbers

I grew cucumbers for the first time last year and I’m finding them to be such a fun crop.   This summer, there always seemed to be one or two hiding in the foliage and they never failed to bring a smile to our faces when we found them.

I grew 3 varieties this year - Suyo Long (which I also grew last year), Garden Sweet Burpless and Lemon.

First Garden Sweet of the Season

There was a bit of a transplanting issue early in the season.  Of the 8 seedlings I planted, 3 of them died shortly after transplanting.  Initially I had no idea what happened – was the soil too wet, too dry, was it too much sun, cucumber beetles?

Wilted cucumber seedling that unfortunately did not recover
 
What I concluded was that the culprit was not the environment but how I transplanted the seedlings.  I had transplanted them too deeply, burying a portion of the stem.  This works well for many other crops, but for cucumbers, it’s a no-no.  Thankfully, not all of the original transplants succumbed and those that did were reseeded and ended up producing later in the season.

Suyo Long & Lemon Cucumber
The Suyo was almost, but not quite, fully pollinated

I also did a bit of an experiment when sowing the cucumbers.  I had read that cucumber roots are sensitive to transplanting so I sowed some of the seeds in larger pots and used cell packs for the rest.  Although my planting too deeply mishap put a bit of a kink in my experiment, I was still able to compare the growth on several of the survivors and found that there was no difference in growth between those plants started in larger pots vs. cell packs.  Space under the grow lights is always limited, so the smaller the container I can use, the better.

The biggest issue I had last year (in 2013) with the cucumbers was inadequate pollination.  I did a bit of research on pollinator attracting annuals and decided to plant borage in the cucumber/squash beds this year.

I was obviously unaware what MONSTERS borage plants were as I planted 6 of them in each bed.  While they did attract bees, they were just too large and unwieldy – most of them reached over 2’ across!  Needless to say, I ended up ripping them out in August as they were interfering with the other plants in the beds.

Huge Borage Plant
This guy was at least 2.5' across
 
But all was not lost.  The Lemon cucumber vines were just loaded with blossoms and the bees loved them too.  In fact, I actually think they attracted more bees than the borage.

You can see the Lemon cucumber vine on the left, full of blossoms
as well as the purple of the borage blossoms
 
One interesting thing I noted about the lemon cucumbers was that by the end of August, new cucumbers were not maturing as nicely as they had previously – many were getting seedy & tough (bright yellow vs. pale yellow) while still relatively small.  I’ve heard that cucumber vines can fade later in the season, so I’m thinking that this change is a result of the vines natural decline.

So with all these notes I take, you would think I don’t miss any important details….and you would be wrong.  Only when I review my notes do I sometimes realize that I have missed key information.  In this case, I forgot to note how many of each variety I grew.  The only one that I did note was the Suyo Long, of which I grew 2 plants.  So of the remaining 6, I’m pretty sure I grew more of the Garden Sweet than the Lemon, so I’m taking an educated guess that I grew 2 Lemon & 4 Garden Sweet.




Garden Sweet was definitely the most productive.  Also love the fact that it is a multi-use cucumber – good to eat fresh as well as in pickles.  The Suyo Long was next up in terms of production.  If you picked them at a good size – which is still quite large at around 12" or even more - they have very small seeds, much like a greenhouse cucumber.  Lemon is best for fresh eating and we really enjoyed it’s refreshing taste & crisp texture.

I did spray the plants with a milk spray a few times during the season, but powdery mildew still hit in early August and by the end of the month, the plants were covered.  I was, however, able to continue harvesting till mid to end of September, so that was nice.


Prior Year Comparison

2013 marked my first attempt at growing cucumbers.  I transplanted the cucumbers outside on May 21st, which turned out to be a bad thing as they suffered quite a bit when some unusually cold temps came around only a few days later.  My exact words at the time were - "the plants look fried”.  Also, I only had 4 beds in 2013, so I packed those cucumbers in tightly, spacing them only 6” apart along a trellis.

As I mentioned previously, my biggest problem in 2013 was lack of/incomplete pollination.  I only grew Suyo Long and many of the baby cucumbers dropped off completely.  Of the few that actually grew, almost all of them were severely deformed (super fat on one end, super skinny on the other) which I soon discovered was the result of incomplete pollination.

Complete pollination on cucumber plants requires multiple bee visits.  I have read that it takes at least 9 visits from bees to pollinate each female cucumber & squash blossom adequately.  Considering that the blossoms are open for less than a day, that’s quite the tight window of opportunity, especially with the declining bee population.

So with the above issues - lack of pollination, transplanting too early, and planting too closely – it’s no wonder that the 2013 cucumber harvest was sparse.



Overall Impressions & Plan for Next Year

This was a very good cucumber year.  I corrected the three issues from 2013 and, even with the failed transplants, the Suyo Long harvest was significantly improved (+240%).  Another interesting thing to note is the timing – this year, the Suyo seedlings were transplanted outdoors two weeks later but the harvest actually started a full two weeks sooner than last year.  I’m thinking that the shock of those few chilly days in late May 2013 set the plants back quite a bit.  Our last frost date is on May 10th, so the last week of May should be more than fine to transplant the seedlings - the key word here is SHOULD.  Moral of the story – make sure to check the weather for the coming week before transplanting, just in case.

The borage and Lemon cucumber blossoms really worked in attracting those pollinators and most of the Suyo Long’s were fully or almost fully pollinated.  As for the Lemon and Garden Sweet, earlier in the season I did notice some fruit drop, but this didn't seem to be an issue as the summer progressed and bee activity increased.  Also, neither of them had issues with incomplete pollination.

Garden Sweet on the Vine
 
We had 8 cucumber plants this year and I really don’t think we need any more.  These were more than enough for fresh eating and putting up several jars of pickles for the winter.

One thing I realized that I hadn’t noticed before was that the cucumber plants actually grow additional shoots from the base.  So each plant ends up with multiple vines growing up the trellis, not just one.  I spaced the cucumbers 12” apart this year (instead of the too close 6” spacing I did last year) & did note that because of these extra shoots, I may want to increase the spacing even more, to around 18”.  But my cucumber growing space is limited & I do want to grow a couple of extra varieties next year, so I’m thinking I will keep the spacing at 12" for now.

We loved all of the varieties we grew this year.  The Lemon cucumbers were delicious – so long as you picked them young enough.  These will definitely stay in the rotation for many years to come.  In fact, even if we didn’t enjoy them, I think we would still plant one or two vines simply for their awesome bee-attracting ability.

Garden Sweet Burpless will be on the list as well.  Suyo Long did much better this year than last.  It is another multi-purpose cuke – good for both fresh eating & pickling - and it is sufficiently different from the others that I want to include it next year.

I also want to try another one or two new varieties, including a parthenocarpic that needs no pollination.  My main concern is that I have read that pollination actually degrades the quality of the cucumbers – which is why most of these are grown under cover and are often referred to as “greenhouse cucumbers”.  But other bloggers that grow them outdoors don’t seem to have any issues, so I’m going to give them a try.  It will be interesting to see how well these produce compared to the standard varieties.

Till next time…

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” ~~ Robert Brault

12 comments:

  1. Your borage did grow big! Wow!
    I grew it several years ago--it didn't size up much, but I blame the poor soil conditions around the perimeter of my garden that I use for flowers. All these years later, I still have borage coming up. They are prolific self seeders. I don't mind though. That shade of blue is so clear and beautiful. Always a nice surprise!

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    1. You are so right about the self-seeding - I had dozens of tiny borage plants growing in the beds by the end of summer.

      And you just gave me a great idea! I still have bunch of seed left and I think I will sow some in one or two spots in the perennial beds. I did enjoy the flowers too and attracting bees is always a good thing. I certainly don't baby the perennial beds like I do the veg. beds - they pretty much have to fend for themselves - so the borage likely won't grow as large there either.

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  2. Parthenocarpic types can get pollinated if you have other cukes in the garden at the time. So unless you are growing them under a cover to keep the bees away it doesn't really matter. They will still get seeds. However they are more varieties to try out which is always a good thing. I used to grow Diva (all by itself) which was pretty tasty, but switched to a cheaper seeded variety.

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    1. Well, I don't think I can grow only one variety so I guess I will be stuck with seeds - which is ok as I really don't mind them. Haven't really looked at varieties yet as I'm waiting to really dig into those seed catalogues once my plan is finally "finalized" ;)

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  3. I often direct seed the cucumbers but with the crazy weather the last few years, I have transplanted. When I do that, I use peat pots so I can bury the pot with the plant to minimize shock. You are very observant to notice the suckering by the cuke plants. I never noticed, too busy looking for cucumber beetles. Apparently you can sucker prune cucumbers just like tomatoes. John Kohler has a video on that at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9YQ2WsubpI.

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    1. I prefer cell packs to peat pots as I've found that the pots don't decompose as quickly as I would like once planted outside. This coming year, I will be careful to transplant the seedlings at or just below the level at which they were growing in the packs. If I still have issues with them dying off, then it likely is due to shock and I will give peat pots a try. Just watched the video - I had no idea that what I was looking at were suckers and not just extra vines from the base...interesting that these suckers develop all along the vine - I'll be keeping a look out for those next year.

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  4. A couple of years ago I tried to get an early start with my cucumbers and had the same experience that you had, the plants never really did very well. The second planting that I did after the weather warmed up did much better. This year I did a late planting when the weather was quite warm and the plants produced far beyond my expectations well into the cooler weather of autumn. So I guess cucumbers really do best with a warm start. My favorite parthenocarpic variety of late is "Green Fingers" Persian cucumbers. They are supposed to be harvested when they are 3 to 5 inches long but I've found that they are still good when they get to be quite a bit larger. They are smooth skinned, sweet and crunchy, although not great for pickles.

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    1. That is so interesting - so maybe I should just move my planting date up to early June - when it has really warmed up - instead of planting out in late May. That timing definitely worked well this year. Green Fingers sound yummy - I've added them to my list!

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  5. I grew white borage two years ago and last year it came up all over my garden! Don't be surprised if you have borage volunteers this year in your garden. My borage plants did attract bees, but it was later in the season. I also grew Suyo Long cucumbers last. My harvest was good, but pollination was also a problem. I am going to try Telegraph Improved this year instead, they are long with thin smooth skins. They are a greenhouse variety. I'm also trying Green Dragon, Painted Serpant, Armenian, Yellow Submarine and Poona Kheera cucumbers. Good luck this year!

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    1. I heard about others having the same volunteer borage situation - and I have a feeling that I will be one of those people next year!

      It's good to know I'm not alone when it comes to the Suyo Long pollination issues - there must be something about the flowers that makes them more difficult for bees to pollinate. You are certainly growing a LOT of varieties! I'm looking forward to hearing about your impressions on them next year.

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  6. Catching up on my blog reading again, after being away on vacation. I read this and the comments with a lot of "me too's". I have had my share or problems getting cukes to transplant well, but I have had good luck of late as long as I don't bury the transplants too deep and don't mulch too soon before the soil has warmed up. I grow several of the parthenocarpic types both in the greenhouse and outside. I'm a fan of Green Fingers too, after reading about Michelle growing it. I grow it outside along with types that need pollination and it does well for me that way.

    I also chuckled at your huge borage plants. Been there, done that too, and I let mine go to seed and had volunteers for a couple of years too!

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    1. It drives me a bit crazy when I don't know why plantings fail....you can't fix a problem if you don't know what it is. Seeing your comment makes me that much more confident that it was indeed a transplanting depth issue. And yeah, I should probably have looked a bit more into borage's growth before planting 6 of them in each bed - it was quite comical ;)

      Hope you had a wonderful vacation!

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