Climbing Cucumbers

Cucumbers stringed upGrowing produce in the backyard is a great way to experience fresher, new flavors that I oftentimes could not get from a store and give me a feeling of independence. In times of uncertainty, it is rewarding to grow even a small portion of food in the backyard.

I am a big fan of trellising vining crops in the vegetable garden. It saves garden space, saves my back from stooping over, and makes it easier to see the harvest instead of an impassable jungle! In previous years, I have used a range of materials from fencing and wire panels, but they can get rusty, hard to work with, and bent out of shape after a few seasons.

Last year, I tried a different approach. Using recycled 2x4s, I made a few fittings that perched snugly atop eight-foot steel t-posts. I drove the posts two and a half feet into the ground and spaced them about 10 feet apart. Through holes I drilled in the fittings, I ran two parallel horizontal wire tensile wires about 12 inches apart.

Fittings on post

These fittings were made from recycled 2x4s and decking screws.

Cucumbers clipped to strings

Cucumbers just after I clipped them onto the strings.

The wire was left over from some fencing work I’d done to try and keep the deer out. At each end, I anchored the horizontal wires to three-foot posts driven diagonally into the ground. Once the cucumbers were about a foot tall, I tied lengths of plastic tomato twine (one per vine) to the horizontal top wires. Using large tomato clips, I secured the cucumber vines to the vertical strings to train them up. When the vines were really growing, I had to check on them a couple times a week to simply retrain using more clips until they reached the top wire. At the end of the summer, I cut the vines down but left the lengths of twine up. The UV-resistant plastic looks like it has held up pretty well, and I plan to use it a second season.

Tomato clips on cucumbers

Large plastic tomato clips (25 mm) accommodate cucumbers and other vines and are available either online or from local produce supply companies.

On my trellis system, I grew the variety ‘Bristol’. It has a productive slicing cucumber with a broad disease-resistance package including tolerance to common cucurbit diseases like angular leaf spot, downy mildew, and powdery mildew. In 2019, my 30-foot double row yielded 10-25 pounds of cucumbers a week for about a month and a half before they finally succumbed to leaf diseases, cucumber beetles, and squash bugs. I was able to share the harvest with neighbors, friends, and family as well as can several batches of pickles that will last me until I start harvesting my 2020 cucumbers!

For small spaces or if you do not have wire and wood on hand, you also can grow cucumbers up a simple zigzag of plastic tomato twine between two steel t-posts. With a bit of tending and redirecting, the tendrils will climb their way up. As you plan your warm-season garden, I encourage gardeners to pair some type of trellis system with productive, disease-resistant varieties of cucumbers and other vining crops. Your back and your stomach will thank you. Happy gardening!

 

A simple trellis made with zigzag rows of plastic twine every 6-8 vertical inches.

A simple trellis made with zigzag rows of plastic twine every 6-8 vertical inches.

Luke Gustafson – Senior Agent Associate & Master Gardener Coordinator

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