Friday, December 16, 2011

My Cucumbers Are Skinny in the Middle

Cucumbers require a long, hot growing season.

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Cucumbers are vine crops related to pumpkins, melons and squash. Several varieties of cucumber exist for the home grower, including pickling cucumbers, slicing cucumbers and even specialty types like the lemon cucumber. Bush varieties and trellising allow gardeners with small plots of land to enjoy growing cucumbers. Poor pollination or lack of fertilizer can result in misshapen cucumbers.

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Honeybees, bumblebees, leaf cutter bees and several varieties of solitary, ground nesting bees are the foremost pollinators of fruit and vegetable crops. Other pollinators, like wasps, butterflies, beetles, flies and moths also pollinate cucumbers. If these pollinating insects exhibit low populations in your garden, you may see misshapen fruit due to incomplete pollination. Limit the use of broad spectrum insecticides that may harm pollinators. Plant several varieties of nectar plants, like daisies, alyssum and borage near your cucumbers to attract honeybees and butterflies and consider leaving a patch of bare dirt in your garden for ground nesting bees.

Hand-Pollinating

If you've tried attracting pollinators and are still having problems with poor pollination, consider hand-pollinating your cucumbers. All vine crops, cucumbers included, have separate male and female flowers on their vines. Go to your garden early in the morning, just as the flowers open, and locate a male flower. Male flowers are on long, thin stalks and have a group of columnar stamens at their centers. Pick the male flower and gently pull off its petals. Locate the female flower. It is on a short stem, close to the vine. Between the female flower and the vine, you'll see a small, immature cucumber. Dust the center of the male flower against the vase-like stigma in the center of the female flower. Look at the female flower to ensure bright yellow pollen is covering the entire stigma. The cucumber will begin to grow in a few days if the pollination was successful.

Fertilizing

Infertile soil can also cause misshapen cucumbers. Contact your local garden center or your county extension agent for information regarding soil testing. Soil tests will help you determine what fertilizer is best suited to your garden and how much to apply. In the absence of a soil test, apply a balanced fertilizer, like 5-10-10, prior to planting at the rate the manufacturer recommends. After flowering begins, apply a fertilizer high in nitrogen. Apply nitrogen fertilizer again, three weeks later, but no more after that. Too much nitrogen can inhibit fruiting.

Care Tips

Cucumbers are tender and require a long, hot growing season. Use black plastic mulch to warm the ground early in the spring, keep it warm later in the fall and extend the growing season. According to the University of Illinois, cucumbers are shallow rooted and require regular irrigation, especially when they begin to set fruit. Harvest cucumbers before they turn yellow. Don't allow yellow cucumbers to sit on the vine, they'll prevent younger fruit from developing.

ReferencesUniversity of Illinois Extension: CucumberOhio State University Extension: Growing Cucumbers in the Home GardenNorth American Pollinator Protection Campaign: Pollinator Friendly PracticesPollinator: Hand PollinationPhoto Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty ImagesRead Next:

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