The intense zip of sweet, hydrating, crunch from a fresh homegrown cucumber cannot be beaten by anything you can buy from a grocery store. And despite their large size, and delicate nature, they are really quite easy to grow, producing plenty of fruit per plant.
Planning your cucumber yield has two factors; variety, and harvest method. Obviously, gherkins are smaller fruits, but their plants produce high yields, often leaving you with gluts. Telegraph cucumbers, on the other hand, produce a few huge fruits, which are naturally staggered.
I want to run through all the variables that will help you to decide how many cucumbers to plant per person, per year, so you can get ahead of summer and plan your harvests well in advance!
Planning cucumber harvests
For me, the growing season starts a little early most years, with dozens of seed packets laid out across the living room floor on boxing day (like most gardeners, seeds are at the top of my list to Santa). It’s one of the best days of the year, sitting back with left-over Christmas dinners, enjoying the final potato and carrot harvest of the year, while drawing up plans for each bed for the year ahead.
Space is always a limitation, but there’s always space for staples like tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and cucumbers. We’re a family of two (plus two insatiable rabbits, who get most of our kale harvest to themselves). That makes planning ahead easier, and with summer fruit that’s hard to store, like cucumber, the only real question is “how many fresh cucumbers can we realistically eat this year”.
If you’ve got a patch of ground against a south-facing wall, 4ftx1ft, that’s more than enough to grow two, or even three cucumber plants, which is more than enough per person through summer.
How many cucumber plants will feed one person?
One cucumber plant is enough to feed one person through summer. However, there are some slightly more complicated factors around how cucumbers are pollinated that mean you’ll probably have to plant at least two!
A basic telegraph cucumber (the long, sturdy, watery types you buy in grocery stores) are the easiest cukes to grow at home and tastes a thousand times better than shop-bought. On average, a telegraph cucumber plant in full sun, in a well-ventilated position, left completely to its own devices on a trellis will produce 25 fruits per year. For one person, each of those fruits will last about a week for salads.
The more complicated part is that the higher-yielding cucumbers are in fact gynoecious (meaning they are mostly female flowers, so will need another plant to pollinate them). To get around this, you can plant gherkins with cucumbers. They will pollinate each other, so you get two sets of crops for different purposes.
How many cucumber plants per person?
Rather than tell you how many cucumbers to eat, I thought it might be more useful to put together a table of cucumbers with average fruit size, and average overall yield, so you can decide which variety to grow for yourself.
|Cucumber Variety||Fruits per plant||Fruit Size (ounces)||Yield per plant (LB)|
Yield and fruit size can vary depending on how you plant cucumbers and their conditions. As an illustration, the lower yield for telegraph cucumbers was from an outdoor plant. But, in almost every location, Marketmore is the highest-yielding cucumber we’ve grown.
How many gherkin plants per person?
Gherkins, or pickling cucumbers, are equally valuable in the garden. They store brilliantly and are easy to pickle, so growing one of these plants alongside your other salad and slicing cucumbers is a great way to pollinate individual plants, and extend your harvest into next year.
|Gherkin Variety||Fruits per plant||Fruit Size (ounces)||Yield per plant (LB)|
Gherkins are predictable plants but early picking can help produce more reliable yields. Picking gherkins at their ideal size (as above) will produce higher yields and more fruit for your labor. In our experience, Sassy Pickling Cucumbers are the highest-yielding plants but need protection from serve weather.
Choosing the best cucumber plants to grow, for higher yields
As well as the three types of cucumbers, as defined by their physical form, there are three types of cucumber plant, defined by their pollination method. Pollination is important to cucumber plant yields and relies heavily on nature. However, selective breeding has created three different forms of cucumbers, meaning it’s easier to plan ahead if all you want is one plant per person:
What are monoecious cucumbers?
Monoecious cucumbers produce lower yields but are more similar to the rest of the cucurbit family (zucchini, squash, pumpkins, melons, and gourds). Monoecious means that an organism has both male and female reproductive organs. In terms of plants, that means that both male and female flowers are present on one plant.
Monoaceious cucumbers can self-pollinate, meaning you only have to grow one plant to get a harvest. The downside is that only the female flowers produce fruit, meaning less fruit per plant.
My favorite monoecious cucumbers are:
What are gynoecious cucumbers?
Gynoacious cucumbers are higher yielding than monoecious as they produce almost entirely female flowers. This means that they can’t self-pollinate though, and therefore need another cucumber or gherkin nearby to pollinate each flower. One big benefit of gynoecious cucumbers, as well as yield size, is that they repeat flower, and continue cropping even into early winter.
If you want to increase your yield, and have enough space for a couple of different plants, try growing a monoecious variety alongside one of these gynoecious cucumbers:
What are parthenocarpic cucumbers?
Parthenocarpic cucumbers are a horticultural miracle. Not only are they mostly female (fruiting) flowers, but they don’t actually need pollinating. These cucumbers produce large yields and grow well in greenhouses where pollination can be difficult.
The biggest challenge of parthenocarpic cucumbers is buying them in the first place, as they are generally grown for industrial farming, and the seeds aren’t readily available through nurseries.
Some parthenocarpic cucumber varieties to try at home include:
How to space, and pair cucumbers for higher yields
Ideally, cucumbers should be spaced about 2ft apart. However, the reality of most gardens is that space is at a premium. We find that two plants will grow happily together in one large pot, or at 1ft apart in enriched garden soil.
Cucumber pollination is tricky, but as a general rule, aim to grow three cucumber plants together. That way, you’ll have easily enough cucumber plants to feed the family, and one variety will pollinate the others.
If you have a gynoaceious telegraph or salad cucumber, it’s best to plant it with a monoecious salad cucumber, rather than a gherkin. While gherkins can pollinate slicing cucumbers, the resulting fruit can be watery as a result. It’s just basic physics; gherkins have smaller seeds, and cross-pollinated plants produce seeds that have characteristics of both parents.
That means that a cucumber pollinated by a gherkin will have smaller than average seeds. The fruit will develop to full size, but use more water to fill the space left by the smaller seeds.
How to care for cucumber plants for healthier fruit
Cucumbers should be planted in rich compost. They are heavy feeders and need plenty of nitrogen to grow to their full size. Once they begin flowering, any balanced liquid feed will support the fruit. We use a standard tomato feed from concentrate, mixed into the water once a week.
Cucumbers need minimal but attentive pruning, as they can continue cropping on new growth right into winter in warmer climates or greenhouses. That makes them really simple to care for. However, it is important to train cucumber plants up trellis, bamboo, or twine.
Most cucumbers are self-climbing, with tendrils that help them to clamber through other plants, and whatever structure you give them (last year we had a cucumber halfway up a cypress tree and had to use a ladder to harvest it!). However, some are trailing cucumbers, which need tying into supports to keep them away from damp soil and improve ventilation, which can also contribute to curled fruit.
How to harvest cucumbers?
Some members of the cucurbit family are better when harvested small, like zucchini. Cucumbers can be harvested at any size, but the more you pick them, the more they produce. So we tend to pick salad cucumbers when they are about 8” long, and gherkins when they are still crisp (2” for most varieties).
When cucumbers are completely ripe their skins will have slight give under light pressure. If the stem connecting them to the plant has begun to turn yellow, they are starting to over-ripen and should be picked immediately.
Whatever cucumber plants you choose to grow, whether they are self-pollinated or not, it’s worth growing two or three plants together, per person, to ensure a reliable crop through summer, as well as plenty for pickling.
And remember, if you end up with too many cucumbers per person, that’s better than too few, and your friends and neighbors will always appreciate free veg when you get a glut!