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GARDENING

Keeping Cucumbers From Growing Astray

June 01, 1996|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | 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.

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:

* 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.

* 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.

* 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.

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

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