Cucumbers make a crunchy addition to summer salads. Photo: Getty Images
There are few vegetables that are adaptable to all climate zones, but one is the lovely salad cucumber. They are quick-growing and you have a very interesting range to choose from these days.
You can expect to be harvesting within seven or eight weeks from the time of planting out.
This is a frost-tender crop, so in the southern regions of Australia we need to delay the first planting of seeds and seedlings until the danger of frosts is over. Now is the time to plant so that you and your family can have a veritable harvest of juicy sweet cucumbers well before Christmas.
Try the fresh seasonal flavours of a Lebanese cucumber and tomato salad. Photo: Getty Images
Cucumbers love to grow a rich garden bed which is well drained.
You can plant them in rows or on mounds that have a saucer shaped centre to channel later waterings. Sow the seeds just 2 centimetres deep.
If planting on mounds that have been filled with extra compost and old rotted manures to feed the roots, you should select out the three strongest plants for each cluster and provide 40 to 50 centimetres spacing between each cluster.
Home-grown cucumbers are insect-pollinated so encourage your native bees to come and visit regularly.
You may also be lucky enough to have a European beehive stationed nearby. You are really dependent on the bees to visit the male flowers and continue on to the female flowers. Warm, sunny days are best for pollination activity.
And when your plants have grown for some weeks, pinch out the tips of the vines to encourage more flower and fruit production. Regular picking of the ripe fruit will also encourage more flowering and fruit setting.
Water cucumber vines very regularly through the growing season, as they like to keep on moving. Avoid watering in the heat of the day to minimise water loss and also reduce the risk of powdery mildew.
When growing in small spaces or in a balcony pot, the disease-resistant variety Spacemaster is a good option. It is one of the slender, dark-green varieties. It will produce fruit up to 20 centimetres in length. This is also good for pickling, if you harvest when young and tender.
Straight Eight is a good old, dark-green cucumber which is perfectly straight and up to 20 centimetres in length. It grows quickly and the flesh is sweet and mild.
Plant out the beautiful Armenian cucumbers for variety. They produce a long (up to 70 centimetres), light-green fruit. The skin is fine and thin, and the fruit has a mild flavour. It will complement many summer dishes and should be sliced unpeeled.
Restaurants are keen on the lemon cucumber, a prolific round, apple-type variety. The lemon cucumber has a deep yellow skin, which is quite thin. The fruit is sweet and crisp, and the plants will produce over a lengthy period in summer. It is a good variety to grow during those hot, dry summer months.
Lebanese smooth-skinned cucumbers are easy to grow. They are tender and can be eaten whole or sliced without needing to peel the skin.
Muncher is an open pollinated burp-less Lebanese variety which bears early. It is best to set up a trellis for this cucumber to help keep the leaves dry and reduce the risk of fungal problems.
If you do see some powdery mildew, mix up a 10 per cent solution of organic milk with water and spray on the crop. Alternatively, a very mild (2 to 3 per cent) solution of apple cider vinegar in water can help control it.
Lebanese cucumber and tomato salad
3 Lebanese cucumbers
8 Beefsteak tomatoes
1 red onion
4 spring garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsp olive oil
salt and black pepper
Cut the cucumbers and tomatoes into thick chunks. Finely slice the onion and cut into half-moons.
Combine the cucumbers, tomatoes and onion in a large serving bowl. Add the chopped spring garlic, mint, lemon juice and olive oil and combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This week in the garden
* Plant out rows of salad vegetables including open lettuces, corn salad, mizuna and rocket. Plant some beetroot to use the young leaves as a mixed salad inclusion.
* Sow a fast-growing crop of radish with your carrot seeds to break up the soil. Keep the bed moist until the carrots germinate, with a cover of hessian or shade cloth.
* Plant out basil in planter boxes and also to accompany your plantings of tomatoes.
* Construct supports with wire mesh or wires for your early crops of snow peas and shelling peas.
* Sow zucchini and pumpkin seeds into seed punnets for late October plantings in the garden.
* Compost all your weedings, apart from couch grass. Turn your compost to mix in the new additions and to ensure that it is moist throughout, to generate the heat for decomposition.
Owen Pidgeon runs the Loriendale Organic Orchard near Hall.