A deep, rich loam, retentive of moisture, is best adapted to the cucumber, and preferably it should be well exposed to the sun. Seed should be planted only after the ground has become warm, or, for very early fruits, on sods or in berry boxes in the hotbed and transplanted after all danger of frost has passed. For outdoor planting, from the middle to the last of May is usual in the north. The land is laid off in furrows 6 by 6 feet and a shovelful of well-rotted manure or compost placed in the hills.
About a dozen seeds are planted in a ring at each hill, and when the plants have become sturdy the poorest ones are thinned out, leaving two to four plants to the hill. Three is the usual number.
For table use cucumbers are gathered while still green, but almost full grown. For pickles some are gathered when very small; others when about one-third to one-half grown. There is considerable demand for the small size at pickle factories. For pickling the beds should be gone over every two or three days so the fruits will not be large. No cucumbers should be allowed to go to seed in the pickle field, because the plants immediately begin to die off. If gathered frequently, young cucumbers can be secured until frost. Cucumbers are frequently raised by the acre for pickle factories which pay a stated price by weight or by number.
For home use small cucumbers may be stored in salt or salt brine as gathered. A common formula is 7 pounds of salt to a bushel of cucumbers in a brine. When packed in salt the cucumbers shrivel. They can be freshened by soaking in water and then putting in vinegar for making pickles. In this way they can be kept for several months, but usually they deteriorate during the spring following harvest unless put in vinegar. Probably the best known variety is the White Spine.
CUCUMBERS ON LONG ISLAND
According to the late C. L. Allen of Long Island, “The soil that suits the cucumber best is a lively, sandy loam, and the deeper the better. A light, sandy soil, if shallow, or a heavy loam or clay, had better be given up to some other crop. New soil is usually considered the most desirable, and, if other conditions are favorable, it is. But new land alone will not yield profitable returns, however lavish nature may have been in its preparation. The most profitable crops ever grown here were from a lively, deep loam, and as a second crop, the first being early peas. As soon as the peas were gathered the ground was cleared, plowed deeply, and made as fine as the disk harrow could make it. The land had a Iiberal dressing of well-rotted manure before plowing.
” After harrowing the ground is marked out with a small plow in rows 4 feet apart each way. At the crossing of the furrows, which marks the hills, a shovelful of well-composted manure is worked in and covered slightly with soil. From six to eight seeds are dropped in a hill. A small handful of complete fertilizer, with an equal amount of nitrate of soda, is then strewn around the hill, at the rate of 200 pounds to the acre. None of this manure comes within 3 inches of the seeds. Cover the seeds not deeper than one-fourth inch with soil made fine and pressed firmly over them with the hoe or the feet. This completes the first important step in cultivation.
” As soon as the first two leaves appear the battle commences. There will be weeds on every side, and bugs on every plant, if they are neglected ; cultivation, however, should be so thorough that no weed will ever show itself. A cultivator should go over the ground once each way, before the plants appear, and just as the weeds break through the soil. The surface should be stirred frequently by the cultivator, or at least soon after every rain. This is necessary to prevent evaporation. As soon as the plants are nicely growing, and thinned out to four in the hill, lay aside the cultivator. In its place use a fine rake, which should not stir the soil deeper than 1 inch; otherwise the damage is irreparable, as the roots run just as far as the vines, and to cut them off is to destroy the plant’s effort to reproduce. It would be just as good policy to cut off the leaves as its roots. In either case the damage is proportionate to the amount of root breaking done.
” The plants will have made but little growth before insect enemies appear, and a constant warfare must be kept up. For the destruction of lice, tobacco dust is generally effective, and for the striped beetle paris green in very small quantities is a specific. Before the plants begin to flower, spraying must commence. To wait until blight begins is fatal ; it is to risk the crop. Until the crop is secured, the only safe way is to spray after every hard rain. The ends of the vines should be pinched off soon after they begin to flower, to en-courage growth of laterals, which produce fruit.
“Some Long Island growers plant every fifth row, running east and west, with corn, which affords partial shade. They assert this is a great benefit. Most cucumbers grown here are for German pickles, and are picked when 4 to 5 inches long. These bring about 50 per cent more than the small ones, which are put up in bottles with vinegar. The German pickles are put up in casks with dill and weak brine, and must be used soon, as they will not keep long. Although the large cucumbers bring nearly double the price of the small ones, it is a question whether it is not more profitable to grow the smaller size, because of the greater number the vines will produce.
“Intense cultivation, which means systematic cultivation, is profitable, as the yield is from 300,000 tg 400,000 an acre. They usually bring $1.50 a 1,000. Some years they bring double that. To get $600 from an acre one must work. He can afford to. A man must go over his field of cucumbers early every morning regardless of the weather, or some will get too large. The picklers do not like this. But more than that, if they grow too large and begin to turn whitish or yellow, the plants will think the object of reproduction has been accomplished and will cease bearing. On the other hand, if cucumbers are kept constantly cut when small, the vines will continue to bear for a longer period.”
CUCUMBERS FOR PICKLING
As to gathering and pickling cucumbers, H. E. Colby of Iowa writes : ” The cucumber harvest begins about August 1 and continues until the frost destroys the vines, usually about October 1. During the greater part of this time the entire field must be picked each day or two. The cucumbers are gathered into small crates, each one holding about two pecks. These crates are loaded into the wagons and taken to the pickle factories. The picking should not be done during the heated part of the day, if it is possible to avoid it, because if the vines are disturbed at that time they have a tendency to wilt, thus injuring the yield and the fruit.
” The fruit is graded according to size, the smaller ones being the more choice. Anything under 3 or 4 inches in length is classed as first grade. These bring the best price, and are used for choice bottle pickles, and for the higher grade bulk pickles. The choicest of the first grade are slender and average about 1 or 2 inches in length. The larger ones, those over 4 inches, such as are used for dill pickles, are second grade and bring a smaller price.
They run a much smaller number to the bushel, are much easier harvested and delivered, and naturally yield more pounds to the acre than the first grades, so the difference in net returns is not great. Most factories will use only a limited amount of the seconds, thus forcing the farmers to raise the first grade.
” To undertake to estimate a yield is very much like guessing on a horse race. One can always be much more sure of his statements after harvest. But to give plenty of range I should say that from 100 to 500 bushels to the acre would be a fair figure. Of course there may be fields that will not come up to too.
“If a man contemplates planting a cucumber crop for the pickle factory, he will find that the cultivation will be very easy, but he must be prepared for a rather strenuous job of harvesting. How-ever, the average man is not prone to complain because his harvest is large.
“Cucumbers may be pickled at home almost as well as in the factory. The process is simple and can be easily learned. The work will, of course, be on a smaller scale, but the profits are large as soon as a market is found for the finished product. The same system of picking and grading prevails whether the pickling is done in the factory or at home.”