Question: My cucumbers were looking good with tiny cucumbers but now the fruits are beginning to fall off. Any ideas?
Answer: Cucumbers are a type of gourd fruit native to southern India. It is in the same family as squash, melons and pumpkins. People have been growing and eating cucumbers for more than 4,000 years. They were brought over to the new world by Christopher Columbus who planted them in a garden in 1493.
There are three types of cucumbers that can be grown, slicing, burpless and pickling. Most cucumbers grow rapidly on vines and require substantial space for good production. The vines can be trained on a trellis which should be at least 3- to 4-feet tall.
When the climbing varieties are supported, the cucumbers hang free and develop straight fruits. There are some varieties that are known as dwarf varieties and are more suitable for small gardens.
Cucumbers are shallow rooted and require ample watering. The plants should receive at least an inch of water from rain or irrigation every week. The soil should be watered thoroughly after each watering. There is no benefit from a watering that only moistens the surface of the soil. Before planting, an addition of compost would be beneficial as well as a soil test. The optimum pH for cucumbers and most vining crops is 6-6.5.
When it comes to fertilizing, the garden should have been fertilized with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10, at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet. When the vines begin to take off, an additional pound per 100 square feet should be added. This should be repeated every two weeks in sandy soils.
One of the most common problems associated with cucumbers is poor fruit set. This is the result of inadequate pollination. If this has not been a problem previously it may be due to rainy weather when bees are inactive. It takes eight to 12 visits for bees to complete pollination. At the end of the day the flower closes, never to open again. If pollination has not occurred the unpollinated fruit will turn yellow and fall off in about three days.
On an average cucumber plant the first 10 to 20 flowers are male before producing female flowers. For every female flower there will be 10 to 20 male flowers. There are other varieties known as gynoecious that have mostly female flowers and are pollinated from male flowers on other plants. These types bear fruit earlier and have better yields.
Burpless cucumbers are parthenocarpic, having all female flowers, and are seedless because the fruit is produced without pollination. However, if they are planted near other cucumbers, pollination will occur and seeds will form.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org