It is hard to imagine a delicious and refreshing summer salad without cucumber. This bright green favourite, however, is more than that, it offers a multitude of health benefits in terms of hydration, skin health, and nutrition.
So, technically cucumbers are a fruit because they flowers and contains seeds, but these days it is commonly known as a vegetable.
According to Nangamso Mtamzeli-Cekiso, a horticultural scientist at Dohne Agricultural Development Institute in Stutterheim in the Eastern Cape, cucumbers belong to the cucurbit family. Other members of this family include pumpkin, squash, watermelon, and butternuts.
It is easy to grow
She says there are two types of cucumbers: English/Dutch and Beta Alpha, and that they are produced in many of Mzansi’s provinces.
Sowing can be done in areas without frost between early spring and mid-summer, which typically falls between September and December. She advises planting seeds 2cm deep in the ground.
She highlights that the ideal day temperature for cucumber is between 23°C and 29°C, and the plant will also require eight hours of sunlight for healthy development. Night-time temperatures should not go below 18°C.
Soil type and harvesting methods
Cucumbers may be cultivated in a variety of soils, however, Mtamzeli-Cekiso recommends well-drained, aerated soils with pH levels ranging from 5.5 to 7.5.
She further explains that cucumbers grow best in loam to sandy loamy soil. “Soil should be at least 40cm deep. Soil temperatures above 18°C are required for seed germination.”
Mtamzeli-Cekiso also gives the following tips:
- In terms of soil analysis, use proper fertilisation as cucumbers are heavy feeders, and apply a 2:3:2 fertiliser combination to the soil.
- During the planting stage, spacing between rows should be kept to a minimum of 100cm. Cucumbers require moisture throughout the growing season and, as a result, do not respond well to water stress throughout plant growth.
- Cucumbers are susceptible to pumpkin-fly, as well as aphids, snails, and leaf beetles. However, they can all be managed using commercially available pesticides as well as bio-control methods.
“Cucumbers are fast maturing crops and can be harvested after 8 weeks to 10 weeks.”
Mtamzeli-Cekiso advises that cucumbers should be harvested with a sharp, sterile knife or secateurs when they are firm in texture and medium to dark green.
Harvesting should be done regularly to encourage vine fruiting, she adds, and a hectare may provide an average crop of 25 to 30 tonnes.
A nutrient-dense powerhouse
Sibongile Jiyane, a plant pathologist based in Tshwane, says cucumbers are rich in nutrients. Consuming one cup of cucumber slices can supply you with approximately 14% to 19% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin K. Furthermore, it contains essential minerals such as copper, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium, along with vitamins B and C.
She explains, “Cucumbers are fruits, known to be rich in water content and are nutrient-dense. It is known that consuming cucumbers may promote weight loss and help avoid constipation.”
Jiyane notes that it is advised to eat the peel of the cucumber as well to get the full health benefits.
Significant health advantages
Jiyane explains that numerous research studies have been conducted on the health benefits of cucumbers. One study published in the International Journal of Health Services suggests that cucumbers may have cancer-preventive properties by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.
In addition, consuming approximately one-third of a cup (133 g) of diced cucumber skin provides approximately 1g of dietary fibre.
Cucumbers are known for their high calcium content and contain approximately 45 calories per cucumber. Also, cucumbers share many nutritional similarities with other foods such as celery, pickles, green beans, and fennel, says Jiyane.
She adds that cucumber is rich in vitamin C and caffeic acid. These compounds have the potential to safeguard the skin against damage caused by free radicals, which are molecules known to contribute to wrinkles and other signs of ageing.
Jiyane believes that cucumbers are commonly linked to relaxation and beauty. There is evidence that using cucumber on the eyes can help reduce puffiness and dark circles.
Additionally, she mentions that cucumbers contain silica, a compound that can enhance collagen production. This is particularly significant as collagen plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and elasticity of the skin. The high water content of cucumbers can effectively hydrate and plump up the skin.
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