The Cottage Smallholder

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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. colin broughton

    this is Colin from Stourbridge, someone gave me some really old R.H.S. magazines, one showed how to grow cucumbers in a bale of straw, not easy but £3 for a bale it is worth trying, although plants in my greenhouse bed look slightly better. Worth trying, the R.H.S. can’t be wrong, can they???

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