By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia
"But they do require some space to spread out," he said.
A number of diseases and insects attack cucumbers, he said, but they're still fairly easy to grow from transplants or seeds. They're easier to grow in the spring and early summer. In the fall, insects can be troublesome.
Males outnumberedIn packets of cucumber seeds, Boyhan said, 90 percent of the seeds may be brightly colored and 10 percent plain. The bright color indicates a seed treatment and a special type that produces only female flowers and yields more fruit. The untreated seeds produce female and male flowers, providing a pollen source.
Plant the seeds an inch and a half deep, usually between April 1 and May 15, leaving 3 to 4 feet between rows and almost as much between plants, he said. Cucumbers need about 60 days to mature.
Garden cucumber varieties come in two main types. If you want to eat them fresh, by themselves or in salads, grow a slicing type.
"They have dark green rinds with tender, mild flesh," Boyhan said. "Pick them when they're about 6 inches long." If they get much bigger, the seeds will get too hard to eat.
The pickling kindIt's the other type that people have used in pickling worldwide for hundreds and probably thousands of years. "When you think of pickles," Boyhan said, "you're thinking of pickled cucumbers."
This type, he said, will turn lighter green or yellowish as it matures. With a more bitter taste, it's not as good for eating fresh. But its thin skin and spines help it absorb the vinegar solution used in pickling.
As with the slicing type, he said, pick these cucumbers when they're immature, before the seeds begin to harden. Once you've picked them, it's time to pickle them.
What began in ancient times as a fermentation process is now most often a fresh-pack or quick pickling process, says Elizabeth Andress, a UGA Extension food safety specialist and director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Center for Home Food Preservation.
"Quick pickling is by far the most popular process," Andress said. "Fermenting limits you to the dill types. But quick pickling allows many more choices of flavors."
With the vinegar brine of the quick pickling process, sugar and many spices can be added to make cucumbers sour, sweet, hot or mild with an almost endless array of flavors.
Be carefulThere's no shortage of recipes out there, but that makes Andress nervous.
"If you don't have enough acid in the pickles, there's a danger of botulism," she said. "Always use a recipe from a reliable source, and never substitute any ingredient that could alter the ratio between the amount of acid and the other ingredients."
Even if you've never pickled anything before, making pickles of your cucumbers is still an easy option, Andress said. If you can read a recipe, you can do it.
"The easiest thing to learn is the quick-pickling process," she said. "If you want to store the pickles at room temperature, you'll have to learn at least boiling-water canning, too. You'll need some jars and lids, and a canner. But it's not hard."
A number of recipes and other instructions are on the Web at www.homefoodpreservation.com. Another great resource is the new edition of the UGA Extension book, "So Easy to Preserve" and a separate "So Easy to Preserve" DVD.
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)