by W.W. Rawson
from Cyclopedia of American Horticulture by L.H. Bailey, 1902

The common Cucumbers are derived from a South Asian species, Cucumis sativus (see Cucumis), which has long been known in cultivation. The so-called West India Gherkin, which is commonly classed with the Cucumbers, is Cucumis Anguria. The Snake, or Serpent Cucumber is more properly a muskmelon, and should be designated botanically as Cucumis Melo, var. flexuosus (cf. Am. Gar. xiv. 206). The “Musk Cucumber” is Cucumis moschata, Hort. Probably this is identical with Concombre musque, referred to Sicana odorifera by Le Potager d’un Curieux, known in this country as Cassabanana. The Mandera Cucumber is Cucumis Sacleuxii, Paill. et Bois. (Pot. d’un Curieux), but it is not in cultivation in this country. None of these is of any particular importance except the common types of Cucumis sativus. These are extensively cultivated in all civilized countries as field and as garden crops. They come into commerce as pickles packed in bottles and barrels, and are very extensively used in this form. Of late, the forcing of Cucumbers under glass has come to be an important industry in the eastern states; and this industry seems to be rapidly increasing.

Cucumbers will thrive in any good soil not extremely heavy nor sandy. Good corn or wheat land, if in gardening condition with respect to tilth and drainage, will answer. Or for the earliest crop, a situation with a more pronouncedly sandy soil may serve best. In most parts of America the field crop of Cucumbers may be grown from seed planted in the open ground after danger of frost is past. Put 6 to 12 seeds in the hill (having enough to provide against the ravages of insects), the hills being 4 by 6 feet apart. The early crop may often be planted in the same way, and protected for a time by a sash-covered frame placed over each hill. Plants are sometimes started in greenhouses or hotbeds, to be set later in the open ground; but this method is unsatisfactory unless great pains be taken. The method outlined by Henderson (Gardening for Profit), of starting plants on invested sods in hotbeds and greenhouses, has proved successful with some gardeners, but is not capable of wide use. Early cultivation should be sufficient and timely, and accompanied by very careful combative operations against insects, for the first month is the most critical in the life of the Cucumber plant. When the vines begin to cover the ground cultivation may be discontinued.

Cucumbers are often forced in warmhouses in winter and spring. The large English forcing varieties, as Telegraph and Sion House, are preferred by some growers, but the White Spine varieties are more popular in America, especially for spring forcing after lettuce or flowering plants. The plants are started in 3-inch pots, and transferred directly to the benches at intervals of 2 ½ to 3 feet. They are then trained on wire trellises near the roof. The English Cucumbers like a night temperature of 60º to 65º, and a day temperature of 70º to 75º. The White Spine varieties are less fastidious, and will take a somewhat lower temperature. In forcing Cucumbers, it is very important that the young plants should suffer no check from germination to fruitage. Cucumbers for pickling should be gathered when quite small. In fact, their value as pickles seem to stand pretty much in inverse ratio to their size. Vines on which fruits are allowed to ripen cease bearing almost immediately. The young fruits may be successfully preserved in brine, from which they are soaked out with fresh water as wanted, and put into vinegar, which they readily absorb.

There are a great many varieties of Cucumbers in cultivation. This means that the group is variable, the varieties comparatively unstable, and varietal distinctions somewhat uncertain. Nevertheless, there are certain dominant types which may be separated, and around which most of the varieties may be conveniently classified. The principal types are the following:

Common Cucumber, Cucumis sativus.

I. English forcing type (var. Anglica): Large-leaved, strong-growing, slow-maturing plants, not suited to outdoor culture; fr. large, long, smooth, usually green, with few or early-deciduous black spines. Telegraph, Sion House, Noa’s Forcing, Tailby’s Hybrid, Kenyon, Lorne, Edinburgh, Blue Gown, etc.

II. Field varieties (Hill or Ridge Cucumbers).

  • a. Black Spine varieties.
  1. Netted Russian type: Small, shortjointed vines, bearing more or less in clusters, small, ellipsoidal fr. covered with many small, black, deciduous spines; fr. green, ripening to dark reddish yellow, on a cracking, chartaceous skin. Early-maturing and prolific. Netted Russian, Everbearing, New Siberian, Parisian Prolific Pickle.
  2. Early Cluster type: Small or medium vines: fr. small, usually less than twice as long as thick, indistinctly ribbed, green, ripening yellow, with scattered, large, black spines. Early Cluster, Early Frame, Green Prolific.
  3. Medium Green type: Intermediate in size of vine and fr. between the last and next: fr. about twice as long as thick, green, ripening yellow, with scattering, large black spines. Nichol’s Medium Green, Chicago Pickle.
  4. Long Green type: One of the best fixed types, representing, perhaps, one of the more primitive stages in the evolution of the group. Vines large, long and free-growing: fr. large and long, green, ripening yellow, with scattered, large, black spines. Long Green, Japanese Climbing.
  • b. White Spine varieties.
  1. White Spine type: A strong and important type: plants medium large, vigorous: fr. medium large, about thrice as long as thick, green, ripening white, with scattering, large, white spines. There are many selected strains of White Spine. Cool and Crisp seems to belong here.
  2. Giant Pera type: Mostly poorly fixed varieties, having large, rather unthrifty vines, bearing large frs. tardily and sparsely, which are white or whitish, smooth or with scattering, deciduous, usually white spines. Chicago Giant, Goliath, Giant Pera, White Wonder, Long Green China.

Sikkim Cucumber, Cucumis sativus, var. Sikkimensis. Plant small and stocky, much like the common Cucumber: fr. large, reddish brown marked with yellow. (The Egyptian Hair Cucumber, of Haage & Schmidt, as we have grown it, is apparently an odd form of Cucumis sativus, and may belong here. It has a medium-sized white fr., densely covered with soft, white hair. The plant resembles the Sikkim Cucumber.) Not in general cult.

Snake or Serpent Cucumber, Cucumis Melo, var. flexuosus. Vines resembling those of muskmelon: fr. very long, twisted, ribbed-cylindrical, green, tardily yellowing, covered with dense, woolly hairs.

West Indian Gherkin, Cucumis Anguria: Vines small and slender, somewhat resembling a slender watermelon plant: fr. very abundant, small, ellipsoid, covered with warts and spines, green, tardily whitening. Good for pickles.

These varieties are mostly all good for one purpose or another. The small sorts are naturally preferred for pickling, the medium sorts for slicing, and the large, late varieties for ripe fruits. The White Spine varieties are great favorites for slicing, and only less so for pickling.

The unrelenting enemies of the Cucumber in the field are the Cucumber beetles (Diabrotica, spp.) and the squash bug (Anasa tristis). No effectual preventive measures are known except to cover the young plants with small wire or hoop frames, over which fine netting is stretched. If the plants are kept quite free from attack till these protectors are outgrown, they will usually suffer little damage. Plants started in hotbeds or greenhouses (see above) may usually be kept free at first, and this is the chief advantage of such practices. The Cucumber beetles are kept away somewhat at times by strewing tobacco stems thickly under the plants; and kerosene emulsion will sometimes discommode the young squash bugs without killing the vines, but usually not. “In the greenhouse, Cucumbers are liable to damage from mite, aphis, root-gall and mildew. For the mite, syringe the plant and pick off the infested lvs.; for aphis, use tobacco fumigation and pick infested lvs.; for root-gall, use soil which has been thoroughly frozen; for mildew, improve the sanitary conditions, and then use sulfur.” – Bailey, Forcing-Book.



The growing of Cucumbers under glass has become a large industry. Some years ago they were forced only in the spring, but today they are grown all the year round. The most difficult time is in the short days of winter. At such times there is always a good price for them and a brisk demand, and the prospect is as good for the future. The house may be even span and run either way, but many use two-thirds span, with the long way to the south. When they are continually grown year after year, it would be best to have double glass and double thick, but for early fall and late spring, one thickness of double glass is sufficient. The house may be any length desired. For heating, steam is the best, with pipes arranged so that they shall not be over 3 ½ ft. from either side of the house. Pipes 1 ¼ in. in diameter are large enough. Larger pipes give too much heat in one place.

The soil should be good loam, new soil preferred, from sod land. The plants are started in a box or small bed, where the temperature can be run to about 90º. In four or five days they will be ready to transplant into a bed in which the temperature of the soil is 70 to 80º. Place them 3 or 4 inches apart. In about ten days they will be large enough to transplant into pots. Six-inch pots are preferred, two plants in each. In two weeks they will be large enough to set in the house where they are to grow. The plants are set 3 ½ feet apart in the row and rows 6 to 7 feet, according to the size of the house. The vines should bear in four weeks. The crop depends upon the season. The spring-grown plants will produce double the crop of the fall- or winter-grown. The pollinating may be done with bees. One hive in a house of 24 by 100 feet, or in that proportion, will be sufficient. In midwinter, hand-pollination may be necessary.

If grown properly, house Cucumbers are not often troubled with insects, but sometimes the green-fly comes upon them. In such cases, spray well with water, and smoke often. The mildew or spot sometimes appears, but never if the house has been taken care of properly. There is no real cure for these fungous diseases but to pull up the plants and begin again. Radishes or tomatoes can be grown with Cucumbers. If radishes are sown or transplanted in the house when the Cucumbers are set out, they will be off before the Cucumbers begin to bear; but all crops should be out of the house when the Cucumbers are bearing.

In this country, the White Spine type of Cucumber is mostly used for forcing, although the long English kinds are sometimes grown (particularly for home use).