Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Troubleshooting Cucumber Problems

by Charlie Nardozzi

Cucumbers are the quintessential summer crop. The crisp, juicy fruits are great sliced in salads, used raw in dips, or just eaten out of your hand with a little salt and pepper. However, gardeners may have noticed that some years you get so many fruits you're giving them away, while other years production is limited by insects, disease, and unfavorable weather.

If you're tired of battling pests and the weather while only getting a spotty crop, try these troubleshooting tips.

Poor Pollination

Like all vegetables in the Cucurbitacea family (squash, pumpkins, melons, gourds), cucumbers produce separate male and female flowers on each plant. In order to get fruit, bees and other pollinating insects need to visit the flowers. But if the weather is too cloudy or cold, the bees don't fly and your flowers don't get pollinated. Also, there has been a dramatic population decline in the number of bees and other pollinating insects due to diseases and predatory insects, so the chances of them finding your cucumber flowers is reduced.

Some cucumber varieties have been bred to produce all-female plants (called "gynecious"), which have mostly female flowers. This increases the chance that the plants will produce fruit. Each packet of all-female cucumbers comes with a male pollinator variety that needs to be planted, too, to insure proper pollination. Some good gynecious varieties to grow include:

'Slice Master Hybrid' - This early-maturing slicer produces heavy yields in spite of the weather.

'Orient Express Hybrid' - This variety produces nonbitter, slicing, 14-inch-long fruits with good "crunch" and disease tolerance.

'Olympian Hybrid' - This early-maturing slicer has great disease resistance, making it widely adapted.

But the all-female plants still depend on bees and pollination to yield fruit. So to reduce the need for pollinators, breeders have also created parthenocarpic varieties, which produce plants with all female flowers that are self-fertile, meaning they don't need pollination to produce fruit. While many need to be grown in a greenhouse to produce the best quality fruit, there are some new varieties that can be grown in the home garden as well. Here are a few of them:

'Diva Hybrid' - This variety is an All-America Selections winner that produces sweet, nonbitter, crisp-textured 4- to 5-inch-long slicing cucumbers. The plants are resistant to scab and tolerant of powdery and downy mildews.

'Tyria Hybrid' - This Dutch greenhouse variety grows equally well indoors and outdoors. The 14-inch-long, lightly ribbed, dark green fruits are nonbitter.

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