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August 14, 2011

Germinating cucumber seeds in containers

August and March are the prime time to seed cucumbers. While it is usually advised to seed cucumbers and squash directly into the garden, because these plants have a long tap root, I prefer to germinate them in small containers or styrofoam cups. If you work as well as have family obligations, it is easy to neglect cucumber seeds who need constant moisture to germinate.

Usually gardeners complain that cucumber seeds are not germinating, while not giving these seeds the optimum environment. Cucumbers need to be seeded at the most a quarter inch below the surface and kept constantly moist to germinate. Old seeds might not germinate, and by old I mean over three years old. The smaller the seed, the less storage time they have.

I like my germination to be controlled, that is, I know how many seeds I seeded and how many plants germinated. If we put the seeds directly into the garden, some valuable time and space can be wasted while waiting needlessly for the plants to sprout.

I usually put one seed per cup of Miracle-Gro potting mix, and water from the bottom so that the soil is moisturised throughout:

It is very difficult to provide these ideal conditions when seeding directly into the garden. Granted, if you are seeding a lot of plants, container method would be too time-consuming. But for the home gardener who plants maybe six or ten cucumber plants container method is actually easier and less stressful.

The trick to planting cucumbers from containers is not to let them grow too large. Unlike tomatoes or peppers where we wait for the first true leaves to appear before replanting, I replant cucumbers just as soon as first seed leaves are large enough, usually a couple of days after sprouting, but before even the first true leave appears. This will ensure that the tap root had not yet a chance to develop thus not hindering the young seedling development. This is the stage I replant cucumbers and squash into the ground:

In August it is still excruciatingly hot, so plant these young ones where they have afternoon shade. If there is no such spot in your garden, shade them with a shade cloth or whatever concoction you can master so the tender seedlings do not dry out in a scorching sun.

On a last note, keep them watered twice a day, morning and afternoon, and provide some support for them to grab on. Seed again in about two weeks, and then again, second week of September. This schedule will ensure not only that you will have some crop, but some continuous crop as well.


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