Cucumbers and the Gardening Nincompoop

My little cucumber!

My little cucumber!

I definitely still consider myself a novice gardener. I would never presume to give any kind of advice on gardening, but I do like to write about my experiences with the hope that other beginners can learn from my mistakes and incredible ignorance (and give experienced gardeners a good laugh at my expense). So with that being said, I’m happy to say I finally have some real bonafide cucumbers growing in my little garden!

I’ve been trying to grow cucumbers for well over a year now and have had one set back after another. The first time around, I was still in my “black thumb” stage where I just killed all plants in my presence with no effort whatsoever. The next plants burned to death in the scorching Florida heat (and I shamefully admit I forgot to water them quite often). Then I decided to try again and at that point I actually got some decent looking plants going. Hooray! And then the aphids came. They ate. And they destroyed.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m fairly persistent, so I planted more cucumber seeds. This time around the plants grew and grew. I did have a small aphid invasion, but I fought back and saved my plants. And then the plants continued to grow and grow. I started to see those gorgeous little yellow flowers bloom. Yet I saw no actual cucumbers. I was perplexed, but in my ignorance I just assumed that someday little cucumbers would just start showing up and then grow into big cucumbers.

My little spikey thing

My little spikey thing

About two weeks ago, I thought that day had finally come. I saw this adorable, spiky looking little green thing with a yellow blossom on the end. Woo hoo! Cucumbers! …NOT! Several days after my little spikey thing appeared, it shriveled up and fell off. I was heartbroken. Why did my cucumber die? A day or two later, I happened upon an article about cucumbers that someone posted on Twitter. I read the article and it was interesting, but when I scrolled to the bottom of the page I saw an advertisement for another article that had to do with the difference between male and female flowers on the cucumber plant. What?!? Male and female flowers? Was this something I needed to know about? Why yes, yes it was.

Female flower - you can see the beginnings of a small cucumber at the base of the flower

Female flower – you can see the beginnings of a small cucumber at the base of the flower

I took biology in high school and college. I learned about pollination. I even planted some flowers in my garden specifically to attract bees, you know, those small, buzzing creatures that pollinate. It just never occurred to me that the plants would have male and female flowers and that pollination would have to occur for cucumbers to grow. Dumb rookie mistake. After a little research, I learned the difference between the two flowers and also researched how to pollinate the flowers myself.

Male flower - just the stem is present at the base (receptacle) of the flower

Male flower – just the stem is present at the base (receptacle) of the flower

Even though I have some lovely zinnias and cosmos growing, I haven’t really seen any bees. So I found that if your garden is lacking in natural pollinators, you may have to do it yourself.

I went to the craft store, spent way too much time examining each and every paint brush, and then bought a small soft bristled paint brush for my pollination. I followed the suggested directions and lightly turned the tip of the paint brush in several male flowers to make sure I got a good amount of pollen on the brush. Then I gently twisted the tip of the brush in the center of the female flower. After that, all I could do was wait. I’ve been checking my spikey baby cucumbers every day and they are still there and still growing!

Retrieving pollen from the male flower

Retrieving pollen from the male flower

The yellowish dust on the tip of the brush is pollen from the male flower

The yellowish dust on the tip of the brush is pollen from the male flower

Some of you are probably wondering why I’ve been trying so hard to grow cucumbers. They’re easy enough to find at any grocery store. One reason is that I love cucumbers. I love the taste. I love the smell. They’re wonderful. I also always have them in the house because I have some very picky birds. Cucumbers are one of the only types of produce I can get all three of them to eat. They are also one of the only types of produce (besides greens) that I can get my lizards to eat. The lizards don’t need them, but I like to throw a treat in their food dishes every now and again. And the tortoises love them. As I’ve said before, I don’t feed the tortoises fruits and veggies too often, but as with the lizards, I like to give them something extra special once in a while. Cucumbers are also not quite as heavy in sugar as some other types of produce. High sugar fruits and veggies are not good for the tortoises (please see my “Happy, Healthy Eating” post for more info). I even give my turtles some cucumbers to snack on once in a while. So basically everyone in my house eats them except the frogs and the tarantula.

Another future cucumber!

Another future cucumber!

The other reason is that it was also a matter of pride I suppose. I’ve always heard that cucumbers are easy to grow and I was unsuccessful so many times. My pride was wounded and I felt like a failure. I needed a win. So I hope this will help some beginners out there. Even if you’re not growing cucumbers specifically, at least understand that you shouldn’t give up. Growing your own garden is so rewarding. Regardless of whether you’re growing flowers, fruits, vegetables, etc., you will eventually get to see the fruits of your labor (sorry about the pun, but it was right there). It will give you a sense of pride to grow something so beautiful, possibly tasty, and good for the environment. As always, good luck with your garden!

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