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Slicing, pickling, monoecious, gynoecious, parthenocarpic - these are all terms you might come across when deciding which cucumber seeds to plant. Let's take a look at what they all mean.
Pickling cucumbers generally are fast-growing and produce most of their fruit within a short period, so they're ideal for canning and pickling. Their skin is thinner and paler green than slicers. Harvest picklers when they are 2" to 6" long. Slicing cucumbers have dark green skin, usually begin bearing about a week later than picklers and continue producing for 4 to 6 weeks. They should be picked when they are 6" to 8" long, European types at 10" to 12". The longer cucumbers will be straighter if you support them on a trellis.
As a general rule, older cucumber varieties bear separate male and female flowers. Bees and other pollinators are needed to carry pollen from one flower to the other to set fruit. Plant breeders have introduced new types of cucumbers that offer increased yields because they do not depend on cross-pollination. Some of the cucumber types you will come across are:
Monoecious cucumbers - These cucumbers bear both male and female flowers on the same vine. You can grow just one plant and still get fruit. The plants will bear the male flowers first before producing the female flowers.
Gynoecious cucumbers - These heavy-yielding plants produce only female flowers. The flowers require pollination to set fruit, so at least one monoecious cultivar needs to be grown with them to provide pollen. When seeds are packaged, 10 to 15% of the seeds in the package will be the monoecious cultivar to ensure the gynoecious type will be properly pollinated.
Parthenocarpic cucumbers - Plant this type if you want to get seedless fruits without pollination. You can plant a single plant of this type and still get fruit. Many of these cultivars were developed for greenhouse culture where there are no bees or other pollinators available. However, the parthenocarpic varieties we offer and that are generally offered by other seed companies are suitable for outdoor planting in home gardens.
If you prefer heritage or heirloom cultivars, there are still good varieties to choose from, beginning with the dependable "Straight Eight cucumber " slicers and "Chicago Pickling cucumber " picklers. However, a wide range of diseases attack cucumbers and the newer cultivars have disease resistance and in some cases, even insect resistance, built in. Yields will be greater and cultivation techniques will be easier with the newer cultivars.
Cucumbers generally yield well and produce well-shaped fruit when soil is kept evenly moist but not wet. For best results, water deeply when the top few inches of soil are dry. Instead of watering every day, water deeply a couple times a week to encourage deep roots. Moisture stress can cause mis-shapen fruit and bitterness. If your soil is in good shape, you shouldn't need to fertilize cucumbers. And always watch for cucumber beetles that can spread a bacterial disease that causes plants to wilt and die. Have a botanical pesticide containing pyrethrins on hand to rid plants of beetles if they appear.
Cucumbers begin bearing quickly - usually in 50 to 65 days - so plan on planting several crops for a steady supply throughout the growing season. You'll want plenty of cukes for delicious fresh salads and pickles you can enjoy all winter. And remember to keep picking your cukes regularly to promote more flowering and fruit production.