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Keeping Cucumbers From Growing Astray

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Unless you grow cucumbers, you may not discover that this juicy, refreshing vegetable comes in many types and sizes.

Besides the traditional thick-skinned green kind, you’ll find varieties such as the lemon cucumber. This is a light yellow fruit the same size, color and shape of a pale lemon.

Armenian cucumbers, also known as yard-long cucumbers, can grow really long if you let them. They tend to have a sweet, mild flavor and thin skins.

Cucumbers love warm weather and can be planted now by seed or transplant.

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Wendy Krupnick, garden manager of Shepherd’s Garden Seeds in Felton, Calif., a mail-order seed company that carries a number of cucumber seeds, says some cucumbers are juicy enough to pick off the vine and eat like an apple.

“If I work in our test gardens all morning, I’ll pick a cucumber and eat it while I’m driving back to the office,” she says. “It’s really thirst-quenching and sweet.”

You can also find dwarf bush varieties for containers, pickling cucumbers and many “burpless” types.

To have luck growing cucumbers, Krupnick suggests the following tips:

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* Find a sunny location. Cucumbers like full sun. If you live in a hot inland area of Orange County, though, a little afternoon shade is recommended so that the plants don’t become stressed.

Make sure they get at least five to six hours of full sun each day.

* Prepare the soil by working in organic material such as homemade or bagged compost. Work the material down at least eight inches, going as deep as a foot if you can.

* Avoid bitter fruit by watering cucumbers properly. They have deep tap roots and require long, slow soakings. Make sure they don’t dry out. Don’t water overhead, which promotes mildew.

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* Fertilize when planting with a well-rotted manure or a well-balanced organic fertilizer. The plant probably won’t need any more fertilizing unless it becomes pale yellow. Yellowing leaves are usually an indication of nitrogen deficiency. Apply a dilute solution of fish emulsion to fix the imbalance.

* Give cucumbers something to grow on, such as a trellis or fence. Growing cucumbers on a structure protects them from rotting, mold and mildew, which occurs with soil contact. Suspended growth also saves space, makes harvesting easier and enables the longer varieties to grow straight.

* Plant cucumbers in the garden two at a time, two or three feet apart. Or plant them singly six to eight inches apart.

* Discourage birds by covering seedlings with berry baskets. Remove them when plants get larger.

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* Watch for cucumber beetles and aphids, which can spread wilt.

On aphids, use soap spray or a strong blast of water. Cucumber beetles look like green spotted or striped ladybugs. Smash any you find.

To keep cucumber beetles away, cover plants with a lightweight garden cloth. Once flowering begins, remove the cover so the cucumbers can be pollinated. Avoid insecticides that harm bees, or your cucumbers may not get pollinated.

* Pick cucumbers before they get too large.

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For more information or to receive a free catalog, call Shepherd’s Garden Seeds at (408) 335-6910.


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