When I decided to grow a short row of pickling cucumbers to try selling a couple of years ago, I had no idea what I was in for! People go nuts for pickling cukes and really who doesn’t love pickles? The great thing about pickling is you can work to find the perfect recipe for you – tangy, dill forward, hot, sweet or a combination of it all! Our pickling cukes are one of our top crops and I often get asked about how to successfully grow pickling cucumbers. Cucumbers are very similar to melons so you are going to see some déjà vu here from the melon post.
Cucumbers need lots of sunshine and heat to do well – again like melons, they need 6+ hours of sunlight to grow and produce well.
Cucumbers like well drained soil that is rich in organic matter. We use lots of compost in our soil with chicken manure and greensand. Kelp is another good option but greensand has a lot of micronutrients that help cucumbers thrive. Again, you can use a well balanced fertilizer under your plants as well.
Ok, so most people plant cucumbers as transplants and I have too but I have learned that they really are a field crop that does better with direct seeding rather than transplanting. They do not transplant well and are very susceptible to wind and other adverse weather conditions. Cucumbers have a short growing season and I have found no benefit to starting them early. Do not plant the seeds in cool soil or you will have poor germination and the seeds or seedlings may rot. We plant our plants two feet apart in the row.
Like melons, cucumbers like and need heat. We use black plastic mulch under our plants to raise the soil temperature.
As with melons, cucumbers need consistent water and lots of water through the fruiting season. Most cucumbers are also susceptible to mildews so it is important to try not to water them from overhead. We use drip irrigation and I would highly recommend using drip irrigation or soaker hoses.
There are many pickling cuke varieties out there and I definitely haven’t grown them all but I have tried a few and I have two standout varieties. If you are growing in containers or are short on space, I would highly recommend Bush Pickle. This variety stays really compact but still produces like crazy. My ultimate favourite variety is Calypso! This plant does spread out quite a bit so it needs some room. Calypso produces and produces and then produces some more! The cucumbers themselves are nice and uniform and my favourite thing about them is that they have almost no bitterness which makes them good snacking cukes as well.
How you like to pickle your cucumbers determines the size you pick them at. For whole dills, we generally pick our pickling cukes when they are 3-4 inches long. If you want to do spears or bread and butter pickles then you will be waiting until the cukes are larger.
Once pickling cukes start producing, you need to pick every day or at least every second day or else you will quickly end up with a lot of overgrown cukes. We pick our cukes into bins and then put them immediately into the fridge to keep them crisp.
The key to crunchy pickles is pickling them when they are freshly harvested. We try to get our cucumbers to our customers within a day or two (at most) of being picked. We try to pickle our cucumbers the day that they are picked.
Our preference for pickling is fermenting. We ferment our cucumbers in 5 gallon pails. We put an airlock into the lids of the pails. Our trick for crunchy pickles when fermenting is using grape leaves. The tannins in the leaves give crispness to the pickles. If you are canning pickles I would really recommend using “pickle crisp”.
I also always make a batch of refrigerator pickles – they are quick and easy and great to eat fresh or in sandwiches and will last for a few weeks in a pail in the fridge.
So, there it is – my quick tips for cukes. Have fun!