CUCUMBERS – December

savour the taste of summer with your own home-grown cucumbers

Being a tropical vegetable, cucumbers thrive when the weather is hot and water is plentiful. It’s best not to get your plants in the soil until temperatures are reliably around 20 degrees Celsius.

Cucumber plants grow in two forms: vining and bush. Vines scramble along the ground or clamber up trellises. Examples of vining varieties are Apple, Lebanese and Telegraph. Bush types, such as Burpless Bush Hybrid, form a more compact plant. Generally, vining cucumbers yield more fruit throughout the growing season. Bush selections are especially suited to containers and small gardens.

Cucumbers need soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8, although they will tolerate a bit more alkaline soil to 7.6. Prepare the soil well, adding plenty of compost or well-rotted manure and space plants 90cms apart. Plants trained on a trellis can be spaced closer together – about 40cms apart.

Trellising vines keeps the fruit clean and saves space. Wire is easy for the tendrils of climbing cucumbers to grab as the plant grows.

Mulch is especially important to keep the fruit clean for bush types and vines not growing on a trellis. Straw mulch also deters slugs and it keeps the moisture content and temperature of the soil even. Make sure soil is warm enough though before you layer mulch on.

« Cucumbers grow fast and don’t demand a lot of care.
Just keep the soil consistently moist.

Inadequate or inconsistent moisture causes oddly-shaped or poor-tasting fruit. If possible, water your cucumbers with a soaker hose or drip irrigation to keep the foliage dry. This helps prevent diseases like powdery mildew that can ruin the plant. If your plants do succumb to powdery mildew OR as a preventative measure here are three ways to treat the disease (use a watering can to apply):
– Dilute milk 10 parts to 1
– Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda to every 1 litre of water
– Dilute Flowers of Sulphur in water (as per instructions on the packet)

Check vines daily as the fruit starts to appear because they grow quickly. The more you harvest, the more fruit vines produce. To remove the fruit, use a knife or secateurs, cutting the stem above the fruit. Pulling them may damage the vine. Don’t let the cucumbers get oversized or they will be bitter, and will also keep the vine from producing more. Yellowing at the bottom (blossom end) of a cucumber signals over-ripeness. Remove the fruit immediately.

Once the fruit appears, give them a boost by feeding every 2 or 3 weeks with a fertiliser high in potash.

If cucumbers drop off the vine just after they start to develop, it’s usually because they haven’t been properly pollinated. Good growing conditions — watering and fertilising — will also improve the size and quality of a cucumber crop.

Indian Cucumber Salad

1 Telegraph cucumber or 4 Lebanese cucumbers, diced
1 green chilli, finely chopped*
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon organic sugar
100g roasted peanuts, roughly crushed
60g fresh coconut, finely chopped**
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

Put the cucumber, chilli, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl. Stir well to combine.
Sprinkle the roasted peanuts and coconut over the cucumber and lightly combine.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, which should immediately start to pop. Now add the cumin seeds. Fry for another 30 seconds or so. Turn off the heat.
Pour the spiced oil over the salad and toss again.
Check the seasoning. Adjust salt or sugar to suit your taste.

*If you’re not sure about cooking with chilli, just add a small amount at first and adjust according to your taste. Remove the seeds and the inner membrane carefully and take care not to touch your eyes for a while after cutting chilli.

**Supermarkets sell coconuts primarily for their water. After drilling a hole in the coconut and pouring off the water, use a hammer to smash the coconut and you’ll find a small amount of flesh which is just the right amount of coconut needed for this recipe.