Cucumbers are one of the most productive plants for Indian urban kitchen gardeners to grow, as their ability to climb vertically and produce fruits in considerable quantities means they use less space for more food.

Cucumber strawberry salad

A fresh cucumber strawberry salad garnished with sesame seeds

The cucumber is also a staple of Indian cuisine, especially salads, and can be consumed raw as an accompaniment to meals or as a quick healthy snack.

What kind of soil does cucumber like? 

The ideal for the cucumber seems to be what I would call a sandy-loam soil. It does not need to be as rich in nutrients as others like cabbage, tomato, brinjal, leafy greens, cauliflower etc and can grow in many “medium-nutrient” soil). Since many of the common diseases in cucumber seem to be fungal (like powdery mildew) I believe that sandy well drained soil is a good idea.

Note: Acidic soils can be a problem with cucumber (or gourds in general) as it leads to mostly male flowers. Adding coco-soil and compost to the soil where you are sowing should bring it closer to neutral/slightly alkaline, where it needs to be.

What kind of climate/season is best for growing cucumbers?

They actually grow well in all the seasons, but are especially important since they provide food in the summer and even in the heavy monsoons which other plants struggle with.

Warm weather and less regular watering seem to be conditions it thrives in. Full/strong sunlight is best for the cucumber, and at least 3-4 hours seems to be necessary.

How much time before we see a harvest and at what intervals does it produce?

Harvesting will probably be after about 60 days – usually closer to 75 days, but this varies with the variety you are growing. It is a pretty productive plant so the average home garden can probably manage with just 3-4 plants. If you are growing in pots, then you should use a largish one – a pot of 12-14 inch is probably the best size to use as it provides enough space for manuring at later stages.

What should the spacing be while planting and are there any other planting considerations?

Spacing in beds should be about 2 ft to 2.5 feet, but its ideal to sow 2-3 seeds spaced apart in case some seeds don’t germinate. Remove the extra seedlings later (retaining the healthiest) so that they don’t compete for nutrition. In monsoons, plan on a circular mound of soil (so water doesn’t stagnate) and in dry weather make a basin in the soil (see below) so that the water is retained near the roots.

Cucumber needs to be sown on in a basin in the summer (or a mound in the monsoon)

Cucumber needs to be sown on in a basin in the summer (or a mound in the monsoon)

Do not water on the leaves, only the area near the roots. Trailing cucumber to grow along the ground is fine if you have enough space and if its the dry season. In the monsoon however, climbing vines on a net (or on a dried branch stick into the ground) are a better way to grow them as it eliminates excess water on the leaves and also prevents fruit on the ground from rotting.

If you will be growing in heavy monsoon conditions (like Goa) then its a good idea to have the plants well established before the rains arrive (sow by 1st week of May which is a month early).

What about watering – how much and how often?

While we have watered moderately on a daily basis, it seems like this is a crop that can be watered as little as once a week (deep watering) when it is grown in a field. I would think that 2-3 times a week on a regular schedule is a better idea for kitchen gardeners.

How often should it be manured and how much? 

As I mentioned it is not a heavy feeder, so manuring should be done moderately (2-3 fistfuls of compost or cow dung per plant) at each stage. First should be at the time of sowing the seed, then at about 30 days (for healthy growing), then at the point of flowering (for more production) and then maybe when the second flowering occurs.

A dose of potash (one fistful of wood ash should suffice) on the leaves (if you have aphids – we haven’t really seen them) is probably a good idea where as the long beans may also serve as a trap for the aphids. Also give them a dose of wood ash at about the 40- 45 day mark before the flowering commences.

A spray of panchagavya solution (diluted to 12.5%) is really effective in promoting healthy leaf growth which is needed for a productive plant (every 3-4 weeks from 30 days on).

What are the common diseases and pest and what solutions do we have for them…?

Fungal diseases – Since they are susceptible to fungal diseases (like powdery mildew), its a good idea to add some trichoderma virde (a fungus that prevents harmful fungus) to your compost, and to mulch the soil so this can spread even in sunny conditions.

Red pumpkin beetle – It’s a good idea to also take steps to protect against the red pumpkin beetle which often decimates seedlings at an early stage itself…we found that a karela (bitter gourd) juice solution (run the karela‘s in a mixie and add 150 ml of the juice in a litre of water) can solve this problem considerably – we had no cucumbers last year and now get 10-15 kgs a week since we employed it this year. One spray at 20-30 days and another at about 50 days seems to do the job.

Fruit flies – If you are dealing with fruit flies in your cucumber, it is probably one of the most troublesome issues you will face. It needs to be attended to as soon as you see the first flowers (cucurbit fruit fly traps are the best way we have seen to deal with this).

Put the pheromone lure in the trap and set it up at the level of flowers (low if you are trailing your cucumbers) and higher if you are climbing them on a trellis of some sort. Else you will have a lot of damaged/wasted fruits which isn’t a lot of fun.

What is a good companion plant for cucumbers?

I feel that the best companion for cucumbers are long beans because they can easily provide the nutrition that are consumed by it. Perhaps letting the long-beans climb and letting the cucumbers trail on the ground is a good idea if you want to undertake companion planting.

Dill or radish may be effective as companions if you are dealing with the red cucumber/pumpkin beetle.

Which cucumber varieties are the most interesting or productive? 

I don’t really have enough of a sense to say. Vanastree has some amazing diversity in heirloom cucumber seeds though. Their Spiny Cucumber has  done well for us and we are also growing Navadanya’s Desi Cucumber with good results. Poona Cucumber seems to be a popular variety too, but not sure if it needs cooler weather than what we have in Goa.

I am sure there are others that also work well…

Some useful links on growing cucumbers on a larger scale