Cucumber, also known as Cucumis sativus, is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family. It is native to Africa and Asia where it has been consumed for over 3000 years. Cucumber is a fast growing vegetable commercially produced in greenhouses though some farmers still grow it in open fields. It is vulnerable to pests and diseases, and growth can be hindered by human error, thus cucumber farming requires suitable cultivation techniques. Cucumber demands ample growing space, however can be grown in small farms depending on the variety. At the core of cucumber farming is the need to produce a yield of quality fruits which can only be attainable through appropriate crop management.

Climate

Cucumber farming thrives in subtropical climates with long warm days, plenty of sunshine and suitable amount of moisture. The ideal temperature for growing cucumbers depends on the growing period. Optimum temperatures should be 25oC to 35oC, though they can still thrive at slightly higher temperatures. Night temperatures must not be lower than 18oC. The idyllic temperature for germination is 25oC to 35oC and night temperatures of not less than 16oC to 18oC. The maximum temperature or germination is approximately 40oC. Temperatures below this range result in delayed germination, taking approximately 12 to 20 days instead of just 5 to 6 days. Upon growth, temperatures should be about 38oC to 40oC. Low temperatures are detrimental to cucumber farming; planting must be delayed until frost is past. Cucumber demands an adequate amount of moisture which is about 1 to 2 inches weekly depending on soil type and temperature, especially during flowering and fruiting. Cucumber flourishes in high temperatures and which can easily be manipulated in controlled environments, hence the faster growing rates in green houses.

Soil requirements

Cucumber farming can be practised in a range of soil types. Well drained loam to sandy soils are preferred to facilitate growth. High porosity and stability are important for coping with high and frequent water supply. Soils should be highly fertile with a pH of 6 to 6.5. Soils with lower pH levels result in poor growth and reduced yield. Soil temperature should be at least 19oC or else the plant wilts and dies. This is because low soil temperature stimulates soil borne diseases and reduces the uptake of nutrients and water by the roots. As such, for roots to actively absorb water and nutrients, phosphorous to be exact, temperature should be between 22oC to 23oC. High soil temperatures coupled with fertile soils promotes rapid plant growth.

Seed Variety

The selection of appropriate seed variety is very important during cucumber farming. It determines the performance of the plant in terms growth period, yield quantity and resistance to diseases. The types of seeds are: seedless, seeded, and mini; there are close to 100 varieties under these types. Cucumber grown in greenhouses is usually the seedless type which produces parthenocarpic fruit (pollination not needed for fruit development). On the other hand, cucumber farming practised in open fields favour seeded varieties which are commonly referred to as field cucumbers. Seeded cucumbers require pollination for fruit development; they produce fruit with seeds and white spine. Poorly pollinated cucumbers in turn produce misshaped and poorly developed fruits. Most farmers prefer new seed varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases in a bid to increase overall yields. For high stable yields, farmers should select improved varieties that have the appropriate agronomic strengths for the environment.

Land preparation

Cucumber is generally less tolerant to low temperature, drought and flooding. As such, soil preparation should be focused on improving soil texture, fertility and temperature. Preparing soil for cucumber farming involves the following:

Fertilisation

The most important step taken when improving soil fertility is conducting a soil test so as to avoid over and under fertilisation. A soil test defines the exact fertility of the soil, breaking it down according to various nutrients. A soil test also helps to determine the water needed for cucumber farming. High pH levels in soils can be lowered through either nitric, sulfuric or phosphoric acid. To increase pH levels, potassium hydroxide is added. Organic fertilisers such as manure, compost or mulch can then be added.  Applying mulch around plants conserves soil moisture, prevents soil compaction and rotting of fruit, and helps suppress weeds. Inorganic fertilisers can also be added, though in appropriate quantities for maximum soil fertility. Note that fertiliser is added approximately 2 weeks before sowing the seeds.

Seed bed preparation

In commercial cucumber farming, cucumbers are usually grown in polyethylene mulched beds with drip irrigation. Plastic should be laid on moist soil, preferably in midday so that it can easily be stretched tight. This helps to control weeds, increases efficient use of water and fertiliser, lessens incidence of fruit rots. In addition, the yield produced is often 40% to 80% higher. Wind breaks should be inserted prior to planting to allow efficient plan growth. Cucumber farming is either done on flat ground or in raised beds. When using raised beds, the width should be 60cm to 100cm, depending on the distance between the rows and depth approximately 25cm to 30cm. Cucumber grown on flat ground usually makes use of sunken beds. This process involves keeping a small raised boundary around the bed to make it appear sunken. Small hills can also be used as beds for cucumber farming

Planting

Planting is ideally done when temperatures are sufficiently high to facilitate germination. Commercial farmers usually start growing cucumbers from transplants. In such a case, transplants may be grown on their own stock. In some cases even grafted. When starting off from transplants, care has to be taken as young cucumber seedlings are susceptible to poor weathers condition. Also take care not to over grow the transplants as they tend to develop a thick layer over the roots resulting in poor stand establishment. The recommended time to develop transplants is 10 to 14 days before the planting date, after which they can be moved to the field. If direct seedling is used, 3 to 4 seeds per hill with a spacing of 1 to 5 feet is advisable.

Weed and Pest control

Weed and pest control are essential management practices in cucumber farming. Cucumber is highly sensitive to pests and is known to be under frequent attack by over 40 diseases. Farmers can control weeds and pests through the use of cover crops and mulch. Cultivation, hand weeding and application of pesticides and herbicides are also effective. Diseases can be managed through crop rotation, careful seed selection, soil treatments and sanitation.

Harvesting

Cucumber harvesting in a controlled environment takes about 30 to 45 days, whereas it can take approximately 45 to 55 days. It can however be sooner or later depending on seed variety and climatic conditions. Successful cucumber farming produces about 2000 to 3000 cartons per acre. Cucumber is harvested as immature fruit when the anticipated full period has been reached. Hard mature seeds, yellow or light green cucumber is a sign that it is over mature. If left on the field for too long, the yield declines as over mature cucumbers tend to prevent new fruit set. Harvest should be done at the coolest time of the day in order to avoid excess heating. Cucumber storage units ought to have temperature range of 10oC to 15oC because it easily loses moisture and softens during storage.

Cucumber farming is fairly easy once the skill is acquired. It is currently practiced by farmers in all parts of the world. The most important aspect to master include the selection of a manageable seed variety in relation to your climate, soil texture and fertility as well as pests and diseases rampant in an area. Cucumber farming is a highly lucrative agricultural venture when done appropriately hence the need to possess relevant skillset and know how.