Thursday, June 26, 2008

Training Cucumbers

The cucumbers are starting to take flight. Time to get them growing vertically.

Two varieties were planted in a long line with patty pan squash at the far end. Growing them up a trellis is the only way to manage them.

Our trellis is constructed of 1 1/2-inch PVC pipe cut to fit. The pipe and various fittings--elbows, T's--are all available at the local hardware store. You could probably do the same thing much more organically strapping together lengths of thick bamboo.

The poles are supported with lengths of metal electric conduit pounded into the ground. The PVC simply slides over the conduit. To hold the structure in place, clothesline anchors both ends. The one weak point was the joint holding the horizontal pieces together in the middle. I resisted cementing this joint together but found that a strong wind was just as likely to buckle the whole trellis in the middle. Now this very long piece just barely stores in the garage over the winter. The rest of the trellis disassembles easily and can be bundled together when the season is over.

One length of twine is strung horizontally a few inches above the ground between the legs of the trellis. It only takes a few minutes to attach vertical strings corresponding to each plant.

The cucumbers happily attach themselves to the strings. Plan on spending a few minutes each morning giving the plants a little push in the right direction. Eventually this will become a wall of green--and lots of cucumbers for the pickle jar.

Painted black, the trellis is barely visible in the garden. To make sure it doesn't topple over (not a pretty sight), the ends are anchored firmly to the ground with tent stakes.


Meg Wolff said...

Just reading this post and seeing the photos makes me want to plant cukes. Ed, your enthusiasm is infectious!

Meg said...

That's great!

We've always left our cucumbers and mellons to grow in a big, tangled mess in some corner of the garden, but space is becoming tighter as we keep cramming in more cultivars. Next year I think we're going to have to go they pull themselves up the strings pretty easily, or do you have to manually train them?

Anonymous said...

Fabulous! I've been wondering if something like this was possible. I need more "vertical interest" in my garden, and I thought growing vegetables vertically would be the perfect solution. I was worried that the cucumbers would be too heavy and break off the vine, but I guess not! Do you know if this technique would work for zucchini or squash also?

Thanks for the inspiration!


Ed Bruske said...

Meg, if you like cucumbers--if you like making your own pickles--I would encourage you to grow some cucumber plants. You don't need very many. They are very prolific and extremely easy.

Meg, I've done the tangles mess thing, and it was a lot of mess for not very many melons. Cucumbers, canteloupe, zucchini--these are all members of the curcubit family but they have different habits. The cucumbers I've grown are all vining plants producing tendrils that seek out things (like string) to grab onto. My Italian marrow squash, on the other hand, grows into a big bush. Other vining squash and melons can be trained to grow up. Wrap the stem around the string. Squash and melon with heavy fruit should be grown on a more substantial trellis. Heavy fruit can be supported by tying it up with women's panty hose (it's true, I'm not making this up.)

A (please don't post anonymously), cucumbers will grow very large if they are not picked, but I've never had one break off the vine. You'd be surprised how strong and resilient these plants are. However, the foliage will become very dense at a certain point--you may have to look hard to find your produce.

Erica said...

This is my goal next year for our garden, to grow up instead of out to save on space. Right now, 1/3-1/2 of my garden is just cucumbers, squash, and melons!

Kevin said...

I've never had any success training cucumbers. They won't even come when I call them. And as for learning to heel, forget about it.

Ed Bruske said...

Erica, I hear you. The year I planted melons, they took over the entire yard and were growing out the fence into the sidewalk. You can get a great yield going vertical.

Kevin, you have to use the lash. Often. Without mercy.