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Ungrafted Cucumber Seedlings

Tips for Commercially Farming with Cucumbers in South Africa

Cucumis sativus or, commonly known as the cucumber, is often cultivated from ungrafted seedlings. The plant originated in India where they have propagated it for over 3000 years, but China is now the leading propagator of cucumbers. Cucumber farmers grow from both ungrafted cucumber seedlings and seeds. The plant’s fruit is rich in fibre and potassium and it is also a reasonable source of magnesium, folic acid, Vitamin A, phosphorus, and Vitamin C. Though it can be cooked, most people consume cucumbers raw as part of soups, sauces, smoothies, and salads. It is frequently used in beauty treatments and is an ingredient of many health products.  

Farmers cultivate the plants either from ungrafted seedlings or seeds. The plants are grown throughout the country with the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, and Eastern Cape the most popular provinces for cultivating cucumbers. Cucumber prices are not regulated and, as such, prices vary from one retailer to another and are subject to the vagaries of supply and demand. Everyone from restaurants and health spas to retailers and fresh-produce markets stock cucumbers. However, South Africa still imports large quantities of cucumber from other countries, indicating a shortage of local supply. As such, there seems to be a potentially lucrative gap in the market for farmers hoping to grow a type of vegetable that is in demand. This being said, South Africa also exports cucumbers.

Since it is a tropical plant, cucumbers require a tropical habitat to grow optimally. Tunnel or greenhouse facilities are thus the best way to cultivate it. Growing from ungrafted cucumber seedlings as opposed to growing from seed is less challenging, but farmers should keep in mind that the ungrafted cucumber seedlings do not prefer low temperatures. Growing from seed, however, poses the challenge of creating the perfect germination environment, which entails strict temperature control to prevent excessive temperature fluctuations. Growing from ungrafted cucumber seedlings that are somewhat less sensitive to excessive temperature fluctuations is thus the ideal way to ensure that a good foundation is established for high yields.

The optimal temperature range for ungrafted cucumber seedlings is between 18 and 27 °C. It is essential to create a growth environment where the day temperature is higher than night temperature. If it is the other way around, slower growth will result. During the first stage of development, it is important to ensure that the day and night temperatures do not differ by more than 8 °C. One should also keep in mind that exposure to low night temperatures negatively affects the shelve life of the cucumbers. Few plants are as sensitive to soil temperatures as cucumbers. A drop in temperature to below 16 °C may cause damage to the root and stop growth. Also, the plant cannot absorb nutrients if the soil temperature is too low.

The planting density is of paramount importance. It is recommended to create a walkway width of 1,8 to 2 m because, once fully grown, the plant is very leafy. Farmers often plant the ungrafted cucumber seedlings in double rows with rows at least 50 cm apart and spacing between the seedlings being 45 cm. Farmers can plant up to 18 000 ungrafted cucumber seedlings on a hectare. The light, photoperiod, and temperature play important roles in the gender of the flowers. Female flowers are more likely to develop if the average day temperatures are low, while male flowers tend to develop when the average night temperatures are high. Lower plant density and nitrogen levels in the soil also increase female flower production. South Africa is well suited for growing cucumbers, as it is a sunny country and this usually provides for more female flowers. Since male flowering favours low-light conditions, it is imperative to ensure adequate light penetration in greenhouses.

Farmers should preferably not plant more than 2,5 ungrafted cucumber seedlings per square metre to allow for good air circulation and enough light for optimal fruit production. Pruning helps to ensure more light penetration and thus increased production of fruits. Harvesting should be done when a jelly-like substance is noticed in the seed cavity. Waiting too long to harvest can affect the quality of the fruits. Ungrafted cucumber seedlings for commercial farming purposes can be purchased from Hishtil SA.

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