MOVE OVER IDRIS, STRING TRAINED CUCUMBERS ARE THE NOW THE LOVE OF MY LIFE.

One of the reasons I like my community garden so much is that it’s a perfect mix of complete and partial weirdos.  I say that with all the respect of a borderline total weirdo.  For the most part our weirdness is manifested in our desire to grow our own food no matter what the cost.  Dress up like a Potato Beetle with pool noodle antennae to scare off the real thing. No problem.  Pee in the compost pile for optimal nutrients?  Well maybe not that, but we’ve thought about it.   This also means that most of us are pretty hard core when it comes to eating well.

Although I’m not going to lie to you, if I could grow Big Macs, I totally would.  A girl can dream.

The man in the garden next to my plot has a garden that’s neater, tidier and more productive than mine.  He has no apparent pests, his cabbages are the size of a biker’s beer belly and his tomato plants are so tall I keep waiting for a coconut to fall from one of them.  That means he’s either King Weirdo or he’s secretly using illegal pesticides bought on the black market in China.   Since he never plants his garden until the moon is right and doesn’t appear to have any chemical burns I’m going to go with the first option.  He’s King Weirdo and his garden shows it.

But the one place I think I may have him beat is my cucumber growing method.

A couple of years ago I started string training my tomatoes the same way commercial greenhouse growers do.  It was love at first blight.  With the string method, disease like blight and wilt are less likely to take hold and kill a plant because the plants are kept smaller, away from the soil and with a lot of air circulation between them.

string method for cucumbers

This year I decided to try growing my cucumbers the same way.

Let me first say it has not been a great year for growing.  It’s been wet, cold and just generally unpleasant.  It didn’t even start to get warm until July.   Pests have been RAMPANT and so has disease.  Maybe because we had such an unusually warm winter, maybe because pests come in cycles, maybe because the world is out to get me.  Who knows.

string training cucumbers

String training cucumbers is done exactly the same way it is with tomatoes.  Just run hang a line of string from something towards the ground and as the cucumber plant grows, wind it firmly around the string.  They support each other.  Like a hotdog and mustard.

 

string method for cucumbers

The one thing you should do that you might not know about is trim the suckers.  Yes.  Cucumbers have suckers just like tomatoes do, only they’re harder to see because cucumbers are notoriously sneaky.

If you’ve ever pulled out a cucumber plant at the end of the season only to find a cucumber the size of clown car hidden in the leaves, you know all about this sneakiness first hand.

how to string train cucumbers

You probably think that cucumbers are supposed to have a billion vines sprawling all over the place but they’re way easier to manage when you keep the plant to one main leader, just like you do with tomatoes.  Pinch out any suckers.

string method for cukes

By this time of year my cucumber plants are getting pretty kind of sad looking, but often by this time of year they’re completely dead from wilt.  These are a bit affected but they keep living and growing.

The other key to string training is to remove the lower, unhealthy leaves.  As soon as I shot this photo I removed all the lower, dead, diseased leaves from my cucumber plants.  No I didn’t. I didn’t have time, but I’m going to do it today.

string method

When the cucumber vine makes it up to the top of the string, just pull it over and guide it down the string.

These are pickling cucumbers by the way, in case you were thinking that string training stunts the growth of cucumbers.  It doesn’t.  Those hydro towers in the background might, but the string method doesn’t.

Cucumber Tips

  1. Pinch out suckers to make vines more manageable and cucumbers easier to see.
  2. Pickling cucumbers are a great choice if you never seem to eat your way through a regular cucumber before it goes bad.
  3. If you grow an heirloom variety of cucumber that has male flowers as well as female flowers you could end up with bitter cucumbers.  When the female flower is pollinated by the male flower on these heirloom varieties the result is a bitter, inedible cucumber.  So remove all the male flowers from heirloom varieties as soon as you see them.
  4. Need a good pickle recipe?

Here’s my favourite Bread & Butter Pickles recipe.

Best bread and butter pickle recipe

 

And here’s my Favourite Kosher Dill recipe.

Best Kosher Dill pickle recipe

This whole string method is working out so well that I’m already planning what I can string train next year.  Basically I’ve decided on everything.  If I can wrap a string around the stem, I’m hoisting it to the sky.

You get way less disease on your plants and you can plant at least twice as much stuff by growing it vertically.

I truly believe you could be successful at growing just about anything with the string method.

home grown big mac

When you’re gonna dream – dream big.

And then dream bigger.

Idris Elba plant

 

69 Comments

  1. Lois Baron says:

    Suckers? Lord have mercy. THIS is why I have no interest in gardening. In what other avocation do innocent things like “side sprouts” get named for science-fiction monsters or parts of creepy sea creatures that have eight legs? Anything that has eight legs is horrifying. Next you’ll be casually saying that cucumbers have eight legs. ::running away now::
    But thanks for your highly education post, as ever, and I wouldn’t mind getting me some of those last couple of plants you pictured, as long as someone else tends them. 🙂

    • Tina says:

      I’m with you, Lois! I have small, raised gardens this year but have figured out the farm down the road has veg I can buy without ruining my nails!

  2. Isabella says:

    I used your string method on squash. It’s worked beautifully. My husband said ” it’ll never work”. The man hates change. I offered to string his cakes but he only let me do two plants. Yep, he’s that selfish. Anyway, the cukes did great but he says his ground hogging vines are doing better. Next year I’m going to do a whole row of them on my own to prove your point which is now my favorite way too. He is our pickle maker and he thinks he’s a big dill because of it. Plus he and I have been arguing about gardening for 49 years now.
    The string method will definitely not work on the pumpkins though. Or our watermelon. Karen, I feel like you’re my guru. I have done so many things your way over the years. Thanks for doing all the thinking and research for the rest of us.

    • Lois Baron says:

      For a moment there, my heart leapt at the notion of growing cakes on string. Most men think they’re big dills. Sounds like y’all are a good match 🙂

    • Tina says:

      I’d like to see you string his cakes!

    • Karen says:

      You’re welcome Isabella! I aim to educate. 🙂 First myself, then everyone else, lol. ~ karen!

      • Emma says:

        Karen..How to tell between a male and female blossom???

        • Emoteri says:

          Emma, I hate to say it, but Female blossoms are fatter just below the flower. Sad, but true. a Male blossom has no little pre-cuke or pre-squash plumpness behind the flower. A Female blossom, of course, has a lovely fattened bit at the end of the stem just below the flower. That is your baby squash/cuke. FYI, you will likely see male flowers for a week or more before a plant produces female flowers..

    • karin says:

      You’d be surprised about the pumpkins… Last year a few volunteers sprouted near an 8 foot chain link fence and they turned out lovely. The vines held the weight no problem (they were carvers not pie) and they didn’t get the weird flat side from being on the ground. That being said, you might need something heftier than twine 🙂

      • Sandra Blackwell says:

        I have seen people make slings out of net grape bags or potato bags…if the vine is growing on the fence it would be easy to make the squash a hammock.

    • Beth says:

      I’ve heard that you can do pumpkins, but it requires a pantyhose hammock to support them.

      • Karen says:

        That’s sort of true and sort of not true. 🙂 It isn’t the pumpkins that need support, it’s the vines, but it’s the pumpkins that weigh down the vines and might break them. As long as the vines have something strong to climb on, the pumpkins don’t need to be supported. Something slightly angled is best (so not completely vertical). ~ karen!

    • Kari says:

      Isabella, how much/many of the squash leaves do you leave on? I’ve been doing a sudo version of the string method in my cucumber/squash beds but with chicken wire. Clipping the vines to it as they grow but having a harder time with the squash than the cucumbers. Thanks Karen for let us know about the cucumber suckers. I will pay more attention to this from now on.

  3. Teresa Jarabek says:

    OMG, you are all too funny tonight!! LOL LOL

  4. cbblue says:

    I’m all for Macs and Elbas on a string. Just love you honey!

  5. Kathleen Aberley says:

    This method is PERFECT for my limited space garden.
    My Great Uncle always used to “plant by the moon”. I still have the book he used illustrating what to plant when. He always had great success – perhaps there is something in it that needs further investigating by me. People think I’m slightly dippy anyway – this may just confirm it for them! 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Planting by the moon is basically based on the gravitational pull of water in the soil upwards, so it does make sense, but now that we have actual watering systems and hoses it isn’t that important. 🙂 But yes some people swear by it. ~ karen!

  6. Angie Pearce says:

    I’m new to your site. All I can say is thank you. Every single post makes me laugh. I mean, really laugh. Your e-mails are a joy to receive in my inbox. Keep up the good work!

  7. Tina says:

    I’m sorry to go off topic and I hope I’m not being pushy but I grew raspberry plants this year from seeds. WooHoo! They were tiny sprouts when I purchased them in but with the alternating heat and rain, they’re now about 2 feet high and some of the stalks are falling sideways. I have no berries this year. Do I trim them off? Should I stake and tie them to keep them from dropping? Thanks for your help!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Tina. Most people just let their raspberries “do their thing”. They get really big, tall and sprawley. They also spread like crazy. Berries grow on new canes and old canes die back every year. So in the spring just cut away the old canes (you can tell they look old and are usually easy to break off because they’re dead) and let the new ones take over. But be diligent about pulling up the suckers that shoot out anywhere you don’t want them otherwise they’ll take over. ~ karen!

      • Tina says:

        Thanks! One thing I’ll say, for seeds, they’ve really grown!

      • Emma says:

        I plant mine in big pots…no spreading. Worked great!

        • ronda says:

          pots?? hmmmmm. could be the answer to my unspoken question. pulled out ALL the raspberry canes last year, but one seems to have been transplanted into a pot with some daylillies. I will have to put it into a larger pot and see what happens over the winter. cuz, basically, raspberries will kill off anything else in the garden. but there’s nothing like eating raspberries right off the cane!

  8. TucsonPatty says:

    I really think you should be selling some of those heirloom Idris seeds! They could fetch a fortune! I might begin gardening, just to grow that plant!

  9. Laura says:

    Alrighty tell us the difference between a girl flower & a boy flower.

    • Jean Munroe says:

      Yes, I want to know, too. Never heard of such.

    • Katie C. says:

      Ooh! Ooh! I know this! I learned it this year. 😉

      The girl flowers are what you see in the 3rd photo (the first cucumber plant close-up). They are the ones that turn into fruit. When they pop up you see a tiny baby version of whatever is growing at the base of the flower.

      The boy flowers are just a flower on the end of a stem.

      The attached picture is of a zucchini plant, but it’s the same for cukes.

    • Karen says:

      Oops, sorry! A girl flower is the one that produces the fruit. A boy flower is the one that pollinates. The girl flower is always on a shorter stem and you can actually see the squash or cucumber at the base of it. The boy flower is on a long stem with no fruit beneath the flower and it has a longer, thinner stamen. Does that help? Also the boy flowers think they know how to fix things by virtue of their sex but usually don’t really have a clue. ~ karen!

  10. Rene Walkin says:

    Loved this post which I read first thing this morning. It changed my view on the world which was bleak to begin with. Thanks for the smile (and the good gardening advice!)

    • Karen says:

      Oh! Thank you. Yeah .. there are a few crap things going on in the world right now. Happy to be a conduit for good. ~ karen!

  11. Ev Wilcox says:

    Wow-I knew you were a great gardener, but Big Macs AND Idris?! Well done! We prob won’t
    be hearing from you much when you harvest those…. Sigh. I was going to have a great raised bed this year but my son got hurt at work and could not put it together. Oh well, we already got the wood, and it can be built for next spring. Our rainfall has been nil in this area of Ohio. The grass is brown and crunchy a bit. Those are my excuses anyway. Congrats on another wonderful garden and thanks for the photos. Happy eating!

  12. Anita says:

    oh God bless you with you Idris pics. just made my morning

  13. Elissa Rioux says:

    I live vicariously through your garden posts but this one got my attention in a big way! Idris on a vine, my heart is a flutter 💓. Thanks for your wonderful witty posts Karen. I look forward to them almost as much as my morning coffee.

  14. Alena says:

    I wish I could complain about a wet year. I am so close to you and my neighbourhood has not seen a drop of rain for THREE MONTHS! I hate dry summers. I am so desperate that I am thinking about trading a kidney for a bit of rain. We have extremely hard water and even if I water it simply is not the same as when it rains.
    Even my dog loves rain water – it’s her yummy water. She is easy to fool though; I fill dishes on the patio with faucet water and she very happily laps it up thinking it’s rain water. She is not thirsty, she has fresh water at home all day long. But if it’s outside, it’s gotta be rain water and that’s her manna from heaven.

    • Dale R Lacina says:

      You want rain….I’ll give you rain. Actually the BSA Troop I work with are rain makers. The past three camp-outs we have had brought copious amounts of rain. So pick the nearest campsite to your area, schedule our Troop to camp there and Voilà …… rain, rain, rain.
      My Dad (the farmer) said the only thing that grows well during a drought were the weeds!!! Not an LOL.

      • Alena says:

        Thanks for the suggestion, I will definitely consider it. BTW, I completely agree with your dad – the weeds are thriving!

  15. Monique says:

    hahaha..:) I read an article about Idris w/ Matthew because of their movie and thought of you..It’s been a bad yr indeed..my Stripes of Youre are nowhere near ripening even and I have only eaten 1 ripe Dancing With Smurfs..

    But on the other hand..my girl no longer limps:)

    • Karen says:

      Well that’s one good thing. 😉 Glad to have read your chicken responded well to the aspirin. I have a doubly bad year because it took so long to plant everything after building the garden. ~ karen!

  16. Tracey B says:

    I have no interest in gardening.
    Until the last photo.
    That I could get into…lol

  17. Mary W says:

    Great post today! Thanks for the pickle recipes, also! I used to make B&B pickles by salting the slices and hanging them outside in a pillow case. It worked like a charm. My question: Did you raise your own dill? I used to for my pickles and there was nothing like it in the stores. I loved that dill and so did the butterflies. Only thing, I had to cut it in jar sized pieces and look inside the straw chambers to make sure I didn’t pickle some insects, also. (Organically gardened.) I love dill so much, we used the tops in my daughters wedding bouquets that hung on the church pews in kraft paper wraps and a single fake monarch in each bouquet. They were just gorgeous! Her table centerpieces were sod in a round glass container with three daisies stuck into water picks and one monarch wired in to hover above them. They were also so beautiful. You give me so many wonderful ideas. She released monarchs during the reception and my favorite picture is her with a couple of monarchs landing on her veil – big smile. Are you planting milkweed this year?

    • Karen says:

      Ohhhhh I don’t need to plant milkweed. 🙂 It’s a recurring thing. Always popping up. I do grow my own dill. I mainly just allow it to grow and reseed. I’m between dill right now but hopefully I’ll be big enough for dill pickle season in a month. 🙂 The centrepieces sound beautifullllll. ~ karen!

  18. Beth says:

    Omg! I did my tomatoes with the string this year, but they’re didn’t look like yours. Still bushy, so I’m obviously not pruning correctly. They are doing way better than they usually do, so that’s good! But I also did my cucumbers and the lovely loofah seeds you sent me that way too! Am currently scouring the internet for Jason Momoa seeds…

  19. lisa says:

    I string trained my cucumbers this year! BUT, didn’t know about pruning suckers.

    Also did not know about the male flowers making the cucumbers bitter? Don’t you need the male flowers to pollinate the female flowers in order to have a successful cucumber? I read somewhere that un-pollinated female flowers produce odd-shaped fruit, which I *also* have (curled horseshoes and/or obscenely shaped.) Maybe there’s a market for those…

  20. Kate says:

    Dearest Karen,

    If you no longer want Idris, I’ll take him!
    The decision equation: Idris vs cucumbers.

    Hmm…. Cucumbers might be easier to handle especially with your new cucumber wrangling system. I will most def try that next year.
    Love cukes, however …. We are talking Idris here!

    All my best from Boston,
    Kate

  21. Jody says:

    Just want to make sure I have this right. Hang string down from an upper support and “twist” plant around the string as it grows. The string doesn’t need to be secured into the ground by the plant? Correct? And then Idris will climb up the string.

    • Karen says:

      Almost! Everything is right other the Idris part. He doesn’t climb the string, he just just grows from a flower and stays attached to it so he can’t escape. It’s genius really. ~ karen!

  22. Mia says:

    I was fascinated in Mexico by how they use the string method for virtually every vining plant – yours look fabulous! Especially the cucumburger; and the pickles? I’ve used your recipe for years now and they are divine – I can’t live without them. I use your same recipe for my sweet-pickled jalapeños and it works beautifully…I just slice them into rounds before pickling and that’s the only change. An interesting thing the farmers did in Mexico was continue the wire straight across the post tops (so they run horizontally like real close-together telephone wires), and then the cucumbers or squash hung down from above, like cute little man-balls…and every morning we could walk beneath the vines in the shade and pluck whichever ones looked ready.

  23. That’s really awesome but, I’m afraid nothing can beat Idris. 🙂

  24. Sakura Sushi says:

    Regarding the first part of your post – I’ve come to realize that we’re all weirdos. Every one of us, in some way or another. People whose weirdness is simpatico with other people’s weirdness tend to get along and like each other – that’s how you find your “tribe.” That being said, you gardening nuts are really super weird – almost as weird as those kooks who think carrot cake is delicious, or an actual dessert or something.

    BTW, your Photoshop skills are really coming along! Nice job!!

  25. Elaine says:

    Oh gosh! I first cracked up at “love at first blight” (genius!) then really laughed over the shots of Idris!! So funny! I no longer can garden (I’m in a condo in your/our pretty little town) but I still love to read about gardening as I do miss it. I’m of your Mother’s age, Karen, but heck, I can enjoy Idris too – although I still am faithful to Denzel.

  26. Kim in Milwaukee says:

    Ok Karen, you made me laugh out loud that time. Idris in the garden….very nice.

    I am grateful for your sharing of the string method…I used it for my zucchini plants that turned out to be spaghetti squash, worked great, except I didn’t make one main stalk so it took over the entire tiny garden of mine. There’s always next year to tame those puppies!

  27. Sabina Missana says:

    Oh thank GOD I am alone in my office I can’t stop laughing!

  28. Elen G says:

    LOL. The Big Macs are killing me.

  29. SueSchneid22 says:

    Dear Karen, I love reading your blog. I am quite interested in trying to string tomatoes; didn’t know it was a thing! We sort of accidentally happened upon a method similar to stringing cucumbers. All great info, amusingly delivered.

    As a pop culture moron, my question is this: Do I have to be Canadian to know who Idris is? I didn’t even know he was a he. I know I can Google it, but thought having you tell me might be more interesting.

  30. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Your pickles look scrumptious and may I please have a starter from those last two vines?…OK…just the last one will be fine…so fine….

  31. Kelli says:

    ARGH. I live in a north-facing apt. with a covered patio…NO sun* whatsoever. My cat hates me.

    Is there hope for me and the potential herb/veggie garden of my dreams? 🙁

    *on top of that a ginormous 4-story apt. complex is being built less than 100 FEET from my door. So…even less sun. It’s been a really quiet, pleasant summer, lemme tell ya. >:-(

  32. I’m really confused about removing the flowers things. Obviously, you can’t remove all the males or the females wouldn’t get pollinated. Can you please elaborate? I’ve never heard that it makes things bitter.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Melissa! I was only just researching the topic myself when I wrote about it! 🙂 I should have further explained that this applies to “English Cucumbers”. The long slender, seedless types. They’ve been bred to be grown in greenhouses because pollination (which they don’t require) will cause them to be bitter. They aren’t supposed to have male flowers but sometimes do. That’s when you remove them. ~ karen!

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