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Hairy, spiky, round and knobbly cucumbers at Harlow Carr

Hairy, spiky, round and knobbly cucumbers at Harlow Carr

Published at 2:19pm 1st August 2019.



Unusually-shaped cucumbers are flourishing at RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate this week because of the recent hot weather.

This year eighteen weird and wonderful cucumber cultivars (Cucumis sativus) are being grown at the garden for the first time – from round and hairy to long and slender, and even short and knobbly.

All are edible and while many have the familiar mild taste we know and love, some offer slightly different flavours: the creamy white fruits of cucumber ‘White Wonder’ for example have a sweet citrus flavour and crisp crunchy flesh and are the perfect addition to a gin and tonic.

Kitchen gardener Joe Lofthouse is overseeing Harlow Carr’s quirky cucumber display, which can be found in the Kitchen Garden greenhouse.

Cucumbers - Harlow Carr

The cucumbers are flourishing in the extra humidity caused by the hot weather. One cultivar – ‘Telegraph Improved’ – has produced fruit that has more than doubled in size in a single day.

In addition to the wealth of shapes, sizes, colours and textures, many of the cucumbers have fabulous names: ‘Burpless Tasty Green’, ‘Mini Munch’, ‘Chinese Slangen’ and ‘Zipangu’.

Joe says:

“The cucumbers are enjoying the hot weather and are thriving in the heat of the Glasshouse, although they have been getting a bit thirsty so we have been watering them well. Unlike the wet and horrible summers we had a few years ago, these are the perfect conditions for growing cucumbers.”

The cucumber seeds – part of the gourd (Cucurbitaceae) family - started life in a heated greenhouse at Harlow Carr in mid-March before being potted on into 2-litre pots and plunged into growbags in the unheated Kitchen Garden greenhouse in mid-May.  

The peat-free mixed compost has a top layer of coco pith to improve root development and quick start the culture and a husk chip bottom layer which helps oxygen permeate the roots. This growing method allows a higher water holding capacity which perfectly suits cucumbers.

Growing the cucumbers is an art in itself.

The plants are being fed once a week with a balanced liquid feed and watered using a spaghetti tube watering system designed to keep humidity high and yields strong. This relatively cheap system features an automatic timer which drip feeds the plants for exactly three minutes each time, three times a day. The greenhouse is also dampened down three times a day and each plant is misted to maintain the high humidity. Soft horticultural twine is being used to provide support, with some plants suspended vertically from the greenhouse rafters and others tied at a 45° angle.

Joe said:

“The angled crops are producing a better yield thanks to the increased air circulation and additional room to grow. Many cultivars are now thriving in the warm and humid conditions. Air circulating around the crops helps to reduce the risk of pests and diseases which cucumbers are particularly prone to. We’re also using a biological control to keep whitefly at bay.

"It’s safe for all plants including food crops and the fruit can be picked and eaten straight away as no harmful chemicals are used. Most of the cultivars feature all-female fruit which tends to be sweeter.“

Depending on the cultivar, a single plant can produce up to 50 cucumbers from the first fruit in mid-June through to the last harvest in October.