A cuke is a cuke is a cuke. Or is it? Cucumbers today come in a wide range of forms and types. Let’s first break it down into two parts.

First, we have vining cucumbers, the kind that need to be grown on a trellis or else they will sprawl all over the ground. Sprawling cucumbers invite slugs and other pests to feed on the partially hidden fruits. Growing on a trellis ensures protection from pests and ease of picking.

The second type are bush cucumbers, bred for growing in limited spaces, including containers.

Next, cucumbers are grown for two separate purposes, pickling and slicing. Either type can grow as vining or bush-type plants.

To further confuse the issue, many vining-type cucumbers make perfectly good slicers. An example of this is Boston Pickling, an heirloom variety. These, when young, make fine pickles while doing double duty as a slicing variety.

Vine or bush?

No matter if you wish to grow picklers, slicers or both, you must decide if you want vining or bush types. I used to grow vining types on a trellis, but a friend grows vining, pickling cukes on the ground and has more than she needs to make loads of pickles.

Vining types, grown on the ground, are probably the easiest way to go, but only if you have lots of space to devote to them. It is important that the vines spread out on bare ground so as to keep diseases and pests at bay.

If left to grow on the grass, mowing becomes difficult to the point that people just give up lifting the vines in order to mow beneath them and simply mow around them. So if you have lots of room for vines to spread on bare ground, go for it. Otherwise grow your cukes on a trellis.

Bush types have become my new favorite, since much of my efforts have gone toward container gardening. I no longer make pickles, but still grow pickling varieties simply because they mature earlier than slicing types.

For instance, Calypso, a hybrid type pickler, matures in just 50 days from germination. Contrast that with the slicers Long Green Improved (70 days) and Marketmore (60 days).

The Maine summer being as short as it is, I feel that every week or more gained on any vegetable is valuable. That’s why most everything I grow tends toward fast-maturing types.

Cucumber culture

Cucumbers do best in rich soil, well-amended with compost. Beyond that, the two most important things needed for success are sunlight, lots of direct sunlight and water. Keep your cukes well-watered and they will grow faster. However, refrain from overhead sprinklers, which can invite rot and mildew. Direct the spray from your hose to the base of the plant for best results.

You can start cucumbers from seed indoors three to four weeks before the last frost. Set out with care in order not to damage the roots.

If you plant your seed directly in the ground, and there’s nothing wrong with that except that it sets back the date when you can pick your first ripe cucumber, wait until the soil temperature has reached 70 degrees.

One cucumbers set flowers, it is important to water well and water regularly, or else the plants will slow production or the fruits will become round, like baseballs. If you ever found round cukes on your vines, lack of water was probably the reason.

Once heat and humidity set in, make sure to water your cucumbers in the morning and not in the evening in order to thwart powdery mildew. Be diligent with your watering, since now is when your plants need water the most.

Finally, don’t allow those fat, overripe cucumbers to remain on the vine because they can fool the plant into thinking it has accomplished its goal, which is to set fruits that produce seeds for the next crop. So throw all those large, fat, yellowed cukes away. It’s okay to compost them.

The versatile cuke

Cucumbers are truly a health food. A single cucumber provides significant amounts of Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, folic acid and zinc. Try to find a vitamin pill in the store that contains all those important ingredients.

People on diets looking for a snack food for the in-between times can benefit from eating a cucumber. You won’t gain pounds and you’ll get great nutrition.

Cucumbers rank as one of the more important garden vegetables. No garden should go without at least a few plants.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.