The succulent and seductive Cucumber, Cucumis sativa, has no pretensions to nutritive value. There is only one honest reason for eating it, and that is because you like it. It is indigestible, and therefore a terror to all who have weak stomachs. It is nearly all water, and consequently has little sustenance in its enticing anatomy. With the exception of sugar, which is present in the proportion of about two per cent., its nutritive elements are represented by insignificant fractions.
In spite of these facts, which ought to be damaging, but are not, for the reason that people ignore them, Cucumbers are devoured by the million, and will be to the end of the chapter. We are told that Cucumbers are the most difficult to digest when thinly sliced and served in vinegar, and that they are not so bad if cut up in chunks. Unfortunately, it is in the first way that they are most appetising.
Happily for the Cucumber lover, there is a wide range of varieties, and the man with no pit or frame can select a sort which will thrive out of doors.
There is just one little initial difficulty to those who have no glass, and that is starting the plants. A temperature of 65° to 70° is desirable for raising the stock. If there is no chance of securing bottom heat, or a warm house, perhaps a friend better situated will lend a hand, or plants may be bought.
Unless Cucumber seeds are quite plump, they should never be sown until they have been subjected to a steady pressure with the finger tip while lying on a board. If they are hollow, and therefore worthless, they will at once crackle and collapse. The pointed end of the seed may be placed uppermost. It is a common and good plan to place each seed in the centre of a 3- or 4-inch pot, then there is no fear of the plants becoming crowded.
If the plants are to be grown under the roof of a pit or other house they should not be stopped when young, but allowed to go ahead, and staked. Eidges of soil should be made for them, about
2 feet apart, and the compost should be rough and lumpy, not finely pulverised. Three parts of turfy loam and 1 part of decayed manure will grow Cucumbers well; so will the loam with a pint of superphosphate or bone meal to each bushel of it.
It is not wise to make large ridges at first, as there is a danger of a considerable bulk of soil becoming sour before it is well occupied by roots. Half a peck, or a little more, is enough to start with, and more can be added as the roots show. The plants should be ready for putting out when they are about 1 foot high, and they ought to be stout in the stem and close-jointed.
Fig. 56. How To Raise Cucumbers.
A, Cucumber seed, natural size.
B, section of 3-inch "long tom" pot: a, one large crock fitting level; b, rough compost; c, soil; d, seed; e, fine soil; f, space for top-dressing.
C, section of 3-inch "long tom" pot: g, top-dressing; h,space for water; i, radicle; j, seed leaves (cotyledons); k, second or "rough" leaves; l, growing point (plumule), or ascending axis.
D, section of 5-inch pot: m, drainage - one large crock with others to make level; n, cinders or other rough material; o, rough compost; p, soil; q, seeds placed about 1 inch apart; r, covering of fine soil; s, space for water; t, square of glass, to be removed as soon as the seedling appears.
E, section of 3-inch pot, showing stage at which to pot off the seedlings when several seeds are sown in a pot: u, dr linage; v, rough compost; w, soil; x, space for water.
There is not much art in training and pruning Cucumbers, but a little judgment is necessary in order to prevent the space from becoming overcrowded, and to have it well covered with fruiting shoots. Cucumbers need no artificial setting, unless seed is required. In order to cover the wires quickly, let the leading shoot go up until it is nearly at the top and then stop it. While it has been extending, side shoots will have pushed freely, and may be trained right and left. Short breaks from these, termed sub-laterals, will show in abundance if the atmosphere is warm and damp, and will produce fruit. Each bearing shoot may be stopped at the first leaf beyond the fruit.
It is well to cut the Cucumbers before they have swollen to a very large size, in order to ensure a continuous supply. When the plants are in full bearing liquid manure may be given with advantage.
There are perhaps more Cucumbers grown on hotbeds than in houses. They cannot be had quite so early, but otherwise they are just as good. If a bed is made in winter it has to be a very large one, and therefore a great deal of manure is wanted. If made up in spring much less will suffice. In either case the same care must be taken to turn and sweeten the manure and to build up the bed firmly and evenly. The lights should not be put on until a candle will burn within the frame, thus showing that the air is sweet.
It is well to stop a young plant intended for a frame at the first rough leaf, as this will induce it to push other growths, and these can be taken up the frame, or trained from the centre towards the corners if the Cucumber is planted in the middle. In either case the Cucumber should be planted on a mound of lumpy soil, and the growths stopped 1 foot from the extremity of the frame. Fruiting shoots will then form in abundance. It is necessary to give a little attention to thinning, in order to prevent the space becoming overcrowded.
Cucumber plants will not, as a rule, canker at the collar if the soil is lumpy; should a sign of this disease show itself, rub in soot and lime. Nor will they suffer from red spider if the atmosphere is kept humid. Aridity will bring the enemy out in strong force. There are complaints sometimes of bitterness in Cucumbers, but I think these are the most common when the plants lag. If they are pushed along briskly with plenty of heat and moisture, and sustain no check, either from want of heat and moisture or from the attacks of enemies, they will be sweet.
Outdoor Cucumbers are sometimes planted out between Peas in June. It is not a bad plan, because the Peas give shade and coolness until the Cucumbers have got a good hold. If raised similarly to the others and planted out, like Vegetable Marrows, after being well hardened, in good, well-tilled soil, they usually thrive, but a dry spot will not do, because red spider will run riot over them.
Two of the best indoor Cucumbers are Improved Telegraph and Lockie's Perfection. Two of the best outdoor sorts are King of the Ridge and Stockwood.
Fig. 57. How To Stop Cucumbers For Frames And Houses.
F, plant at stopping stage when intended for frame or pit planting: y, growing point pinched off; z, laterals from axils of seed leaves; a, laterals pushing from axils of rough leaves.
G, plant which, after being stopped and, pushing laterals as shown at F, has been shifted into a 6-inch pot from the 3-inch to prevent it from becoming rootbound: b, ball of soil and roots; c, fresh pot filled with roots; d, laterals stopped at second joint to induce a branching, fruitful habit.
H, plant shifted from 3- into 5-inch pot and intended for planting in a pit or house and training to a trellis: e, ball; f, 5-inch pot well filled with roots, plant at the right stage for planting in the fruiting bed; g, stake; h, laterals which ought to be rubbed off whilst quite small.
I, plant after planting out: i, soil or bed level; j, seed leaves joint; k, joints from which laterals have been rubbed off, this to be practised until lowest wire of trellis is reached; l, tendrils nipped off; m, lowest wire of trellis, growing point of plant pinched off if desired that it should divide into two growths, the laterals not being removed from two joints below as shown.