Asphalt Garden: I Learn a Simple Lesson the Hard Way

That lesson? Cucumbers need lots of water.

This is obviously a no-brainer, and I didn’t intentionally slack on the watering. I thought my self-watering container would give me a decent water reservoir – which it did, until my cucumber plants started to outgrow it.

In the middle of May, I was crowing about how fast my cucumber plants were growing. I kept my watering routine to about once every three days, and then the reservoir ran dry. It was a one-time mistake, but that was enough to shock my plants. They started dying back almost immediately, from the oldest leaves outward.

Most frustrating was how even though I adjusted my watering routine, leaves kept shriveling. To add insult to injury, one of my neighbors ran over a vine with her car. The low point came the first week of July, when it seemed like half of the leaves on both my cucumber plants were dead.

At left, my cucumber plants at the start of the die-off, in mid-June. At center, after pruning away the dead leaves in mid-July. At right, a dramatic recovery today, in mid-August.

I cut out all of the dead leaves, and pruned back vines that had stopped growing. Then I rededicated myself to making sure the water reservoir stayed full. A month ago, I only needed to refill it every-other day. Now that the cucumber plants have started growing in earnest again, I make sure to water every day.

It’s satisfying to watch the plants come back. Those leaves at left grew in just one week.

While I think I have solved the watering problem, my cucumbers still aren’t behaving exactly the way I’d like.

The plants are putting out plenty  of fruit, and yet only one tenth of that fruit is setting. Baby cucumbers grow about an inch long, then turn brown and die. This isn’t a pollination problem, either. One plant produces only female flowers that don’t require fertilizing, and yet the baby cucumbers are still dying. And even if pollination was the problem, I have plenty of bees come to my garden, even though it is in a parking lot.

I do have some cucumbers that are setting, and in some way it’s a relief not to be swimming in a giant cucumber harvest. I’m going to keep up my aggressive watering campaign and hope for the best.

  • Sandi

    I just found your site (in a roundabout way through Pinterest), and I’ve already added it to my Reader. About the cucumbers – female flowers DO need pollination, and it takes quite a few visits by bees to do the job. Maybe the location is preventing enough visits, or maybe pesticides are being used in the area that reduces the insect population. You can try pollinating some of the flowers by hand and see if that’s really the problem. Use a small paintbrush and collect the pollen from the male flowers, then brush it on some of the female flowers’ stigmas.

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