The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Growing cucumbers in a greenhouse or polytunnel

baby cucumber plantsI spent an hour and a half happily planting my baby cucumber plants into seven large pots against the end wall in the greenhouse. I also constructed a frame for them to scramble up.

The seed pack for these precious plants was expensive. £4 for just seven seeds. They were planted in newspaper pots and germinated in our heated propagator and then brought on in our greenhouse. Last year I went downmarket seed-wise with disappointing results. The cheap pack had loads of seeds but only three out of five seedlings made it to the big pots and these gave a poor harvest as even the survivors eventually succumbed to fungal disease.

Building the frames and finding the right sized canes is slow, satisfying work. It’s hard as they seem to travel around our patch independently. My heart lifts when I find the perfect cane and I rush back to the greenhouse to see if it fits. When the canes are in place I dream about the extended harvest whilst I cut the twine and tie careful reef knots, right over left and left over right. The process appeals to the Virgo in me. I feel that all attention to frame building gives the cucumber plants a fighting chance when they finally start to race for the roof.

When I stand back and look at the pots and the frame and the plants, it’s one of those moments when anything seems possible. I imagine the end wall of the greenhouse jungle-like, filled with pendulous cucumbers.

I have a passion for cucumber, could eat it with every meal. Perfect cucumber sandwiches that can be savoured in a one bite and the thought of cucumber mousse has me searching the larder shelves for packets of gelatin. The best experience is a ripe cucumber cut from the plant and guzzled on a hot day within the confines of the greenhouse – each bite is always cool, crunchy and delicious.

Home grown cucumbers taste just like a cucumber should. If you ever have the chance to sample one, jump in immediately, you will never forget the experience and taste. In fact you may have to invest in a greenhouse to grow your own.

Sometimes I give a cucumber away. It is received politely as the recipient generally assumes that we have a glut. There are no ‘cucumber gluts’ here. They are chomped as fast as they grow. A few days later we often get a call,
“Fiona, I just wanted to thank you for your cucumber. It was delicious. If you have any more, please … ”

This Spring I searched for a variety that had a resistance to mildew. It meant moving up several notches to a Rolls Royce strain – Unwin’s Long Crop (F1 Hybrid). The pack promises “excellent supermarket quality cucumbers” that will be harvested well into late summer…The healthy plants will have some resistance to mildew.”

I examined my plants carefully this afternoon, they look healthy but will they all survive the torments of slugs and snails and disease?

If they do, I want to pickle some baby cucumbers this year. They would be great to eat in the winter, green and crunchy and packed with summer sun.

Apart from the dramas of possible mildew, cucumbers are easy to grow in the greenhouse. I get the best results when they are planted in large pots standing in decent sized saucers. Initially I sprinkle gravel or shells around the seedling to discourage slugs and snails. I water them well and then top up the saucers in the morning and evening and feed them with a liquid feed when the flowers begin to set. Any male flowers (they have a swelling beneath them) are removed as the fruits from these are bitter.

The soil needs to be moist at all times but not too wet. I continue feeding until the end of the season – at least once a week. Once they reach the apex of the roof I stop them by nipping off the tops. So the energy goes into producing even more fruit.

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  1. HI, this might be a bit late, but as a beginner, I read elsewhere that it was the female flowers that had the swelling, not the male. Could you please confirm?

  2. Hopefully growing cucumbers in my new greenhouse this next season. Do I have to buy seeds or can I buy plants from my local nursery just as I have bought Tomatoe plants for my ‘old’ plastic greenhouse.

  3. i placed my cucumbers in a pot as you have but stepped them apart. .`.`.`.`. like that with just a cane to hold each one [my first year of growing them in the north east of england]and theyve come on better than experienced gardeners around me, which there are many. maybe i was lucky but i find that theres no need to build a frame for them to climb up, just let them entwine together. I didnt use a hybrid either and i had the nuisance of taking out the male flower for better flavour but it didnt take that long. good luck with your growing

  4. Leave a pan of beer out for the slugs- an aluminum pie plate works perfect. They’ll drown themselves! -trina

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Kate

    I’m very particular about the cane construction in the green house. It has to look attractive and support the cucumbers without collapsing mid season!

    Hi Cherry

    I was just thinking about you all at the weekend when I saw photos of my great nephew at Mum’s!

    I like the autumn gardening jobs but this is the best time of year for me in the kitchen garden. Full of expectation and promise!

    Thanks for dropping by.

    Hi Stephanie in AR

    The sticks in the pots are the start of the frame that reaches up to the eaves of the greenhouse – they make for a secure base.

    Hi Pat

    On a good year we get loads of cucumbers in the greenhouse.

    Slugs and snails arggggh!

    Hi Magic Cochin

    Thanks for the advise. I tried growing outdoor ones once and they didn’t thrive and were bitter – I reckon that I didn’t remove the male flowers!

    No I haven’t grown gherkins for pickling. Might try some next year!

  6. magic cochin

    I love that neat cane construction – very Zen!

    We usually grow outdoor cucumbers, maybe I’ll try one of these in the greenhouse to see how it fares. Germination excellent this year so we have lots of plants ready and waiting in small pots.

    Be careful to select the correct flowers when removing the male ones – keep the female flowers which have a teeny weeny mini cucumber forming behind them. The male flowers can’t produce fruit they just pollinate the female flowers and the fertilised and swelling seeds then taste bitter.

    Have you ever grown gherkins for pickling?


  7. Fiona, best of luck on your Cukes. I am trying to grow some here this year. Back in the US I had them coming out of my ears we had so many. Now I will be excited if I get a couple. How times have changed. Fighting the slugs and snails here too with all this rain we have had.

  8. Stephanie in AR

    Are the small sticks in the pots part of the frame? Around here, greenhouses are used for starting plants for gardens for transplant out so I am trying to picture the set up.

  9. cherry

    I love reading what I think of as seasonal posts. We are always doing the opposite – eg. while you plant, we harvest, and so it goes through the seasons. While you were planting your cucumbers, we spent the weekend (our Queen’s birthday holiday)raking leaves and digging over the vege patch, ready for a cover crop of mustard seed and lupin.

  10. Kate(uk)

    How nice to know I’m not alone in enjoying the karma of the perfect cane and the reef knot in the greenhouse.The plants just wouldn’t grow properly without a reef knot…with perfectly trimmed ends, naturally!

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