Cucumber is a crop ideally suited to trellis culture. As the plants grow, tendrils fasten themselves to the trellis, allowing the vines to climb ever higher. Because cucumber fruit do not separate from the stem when ready to harvest, they don't require any special support when the plants are grown vertically. The fruit, which are small, are not heavy enough to pull vines from the trellis. Unlike surface-grown cucumbers that develop a condition known as yellow belly when in contact with the soil, trellised fruit are a uniform green and are straighter because they hang from the trellis. These characteristics appeal to the consumer.
The climatic requirement and growth characteristics of the cucumber plant combine to make it an ideal candidate for hoop house production. Its requirement for a warm growing environment and propensity for vertical growth complement the strengths of the hoop house growing system, namely, the ability to generate early season warmth and accommodate tall-growing plants.
In an effort to determine the profitability of a hoop housegrown cucumber crop, we conducted a study during the spring at the Noble Foundation Horticulture Center in Ardmore. In early March, 128 15-gallon containers with a mix of loam soil and compost were moved into a 20-by-68-foot hoop house and arranged in four rows. Containers were spaced on 2-foot centers within rows and 5-foot centers between rows. Preplant fertilizer was applied according to test results and incorporated into the soil. Each container was covered with clear plastic trash can liners to increase soil temperature.
On March 24, 256 'Dasher-II' cucumber plants, two per container, were planted. A 15-inch-wide by 5-foot-tall remesh wire cage was placed on each container before the plants produced vines. Nitrogen fertilizer was delivered to the crop weekly by a drip irrigation system. Plants were treated for spider mites and aphids on March 30 and May 11, respectively.
Despite abundant female flowers, fruit were slow to set during the last half of April. Suspecting a lack of bee activity, we brought in four additional hives, and fruit set jumped dramatically. On May 5 we harvested our first crop of cucumbers and harvested fruit fourteen more times. Because of declining fruit quality, lower yields, and a heavy infestation of mites, the final harvest was June 9. A total of 3,727 marketable fruit weighing 2,640 pounds was harvested from the 1,360-square-foot structure. Average weight per fruit was 0.7 pounds.
Prices obtained by growers vary, depending on marketing method and availability. During April and May, cucumbers routinely brought fifty cents per fruit at local supermarkets.
The margin of profit one can expect with hoop house cucumbers varies with costs, especially as they relate to labor. In our study ninety man-hours of labor was required to grow the crop. If the owners or managers perform tasks, net income will be significant. If they take a hands-off approach and hire everything done, profits will be reduced to a few hundred dollars.
According to the results of our study, cucumber is yet another crop to add to a growing list of profitable hoop house crops.