It may be surprising for some people that cucumber is not a vegetable but a fruit. This refreshing green snack can always be a treat to eat for those who like veggies. In fact, you can even eat it raw and still enjoy it. The freshness and crispiness coupled with high water content and low calories makes it even better to satiate hunger any time. Cucumbers provide ample hydration and also a great dose of healthy minerals like copper, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium as well as Vitamin K, B, and C.
Cucumbers need a long growing season. But they are easy to care for and have two main needs: sun and water. With warmth, adequate light, and fertile, moist soil- you can grow fresh cucumbers with zero hassle. However, their variety and the purpose of growing actually determine when to harvest cucumbers. The two main categories of why you want to grow them are slicing cucumbers for eating fresh, or pickling cucumbers.
The Two Main Types of Cucumbers
There are two main types of cucumbers: vining and bush. Vining cucumbers scramble along the ground or climb up poles, fences or other plants. They usually yield more fruit. Bush cucumbers, however, are more suited for containers or small gardens. They also give a more ornamental look.
How and When to Harvest Cucumbers
Typically, cucumbers need 50 to 70 days after planting till they are ready to harvest. Around eight to ten days after the first female flower opens up, look out for the fruits’ size. Basically, cucumbers are harvested when they are adequately sized. In any case, the fruit must be picked before it starts to yellow. Fleshy, green and firm- these are the characteristics of an ideal ripe cucumber.
Not harvesting cucumber on time and a late harvest can completely ruin their freshness. So, timing is key to avoid bitter tasting cucumbers.
It is important to note that picking them too early is also not favorable. Cucumbers do not continue to ripen after harvest.
Harvesting time also differs with types of cucumber. For slicing cucumbers, that you wish to enjoy raw and sliced- you should harvest the fruit when it is about 6 inches long.
Rather than pulling and twisting the vines, it is better to use sharp shears to remove the fruit. Also remove any cucumbers that have rotten ends or stunted growth so the plants’ energy is focused on the growing fruits. This is like the process of pruning, where you take the parts of the plant in which the resources of the plant are wasted.
When to Harvest Pickling Cucumbers
For pickle lovers, there’s always an undeniable appeal for pickling varieties in cucumbers. These varieties differ in the time they take to mature and when they are ready to harvest.
They also look different than the slicing variety. Rather than being dark green throughout, picklers are paler in color and often have light stripes running down their length. They also have thinner skin with some extra crunch in the flesh.
Pickling cucumbers are ready for harvest when young. A good rule of thumb is to pick them when they are 2 inches long. If you want to make dill pickles from them, wait till they are 3-4 inches long.
While harvesting, remember to leave at least an inch of stem intact with the cucumber. This makes them less prone to rotting while stored.
What to do with overripe cucumbers
Over-ripe cucumbers are the ones you left on their vines for too long. Because of harvesting late, they can become big and change color. The process is actually similar to leaves that go from green to yellow. As the ripe cucumbers get older on the vine, the chlorophyll that gives them their green color starts fading.
Did you just notice a bunch of weird looking cucumbers and are not sure whether they are over-ripe?
You can tell that a cucumber has become over-ripe when the dark green color fades. Instead, you will notice a yellow hue or pigment. The yellowed cucumber can be too bitter.
So, what to do with overripe cucumbers?
One popular solution is canning pickles out of them by using simple home recipes. These sour, tangy chunks can actually be a treat rather than a waste.
You can also create a ripe cucumber relish using onions, vinegar, sugar and spices. Cucumber relish made from over-ripe cucumbers can be as good as any traditional relish. It can be used in burgers, salads, eggs and so many other dishes as a flavorful side.
When to Pick English Cucumbers
One popular and more expensive variety often found in supermarkets is the English Cucumber. These are also known as greenhouse, seedless, or European cucumbers. What makes them appealing is their naturally thin no-peel skin, no seeds, and burp-less flavor with no bitterness.
English cucumbers are usually 10-12 inches long and are firm and uniformly shaped. Most of the times, this variety is produced commercially. But many gardeners often wish to grow them at home.
An important and interesting fact worth knowing about English cucumbers is that they have only female flowers. Traditional cucumbers are bisexual, meaning they produce both male and female flowers. One common mistake while attempting to grow English cucumbers is to sow them close to regular cucumbers. What happens then is, bees and insects carry pollen from the traditional male cucumber plant to the female English cucumber plant. This results in disappointing results; a lumpy cucumber with tough seeds.
Do not grow your English cucumbers close to your regular cucumbers. A minimum distance of 115 feet is required. Also ensure that the vines are not sprawling across the ground. These cucumbers get their long, slender, straight shape because they grow suspended in the air.
Now the final question: when to pick English cucumbers? They are generally ready to harvest 12 weeks after planting. You should pick them when they’ve reached around 11 to 12 inches of length.
Cucumber Plant Care Tips
Sun, fertile and well-draining soil, and space are the primary needs of cucumber plants.
Make sure to plant your cucumber in an area that gets an abundant amount of sunlight daily. Make sure that they are at least 36 to 60 inches apart from each other, unless of course, if you are planting English cucumbers. As for the soil, make it fertile by mixing in a few inches of aged compost ot some other nutrient-rich organic material.
Cucumbers do not need much water, which is kind of ironic considering the water content of the fruit. The plant does not need much care, but make sure to give it an inch of water weekly. Make sure you are consistent with your watering. Inconsistent watering can cause the fruit to have a weird shape or a terrible taste. But in watering, keep the foliage dry. This goes a long way in preventing diseases in the leaves that can ruin the entire plant.
Mulching is an effective method of keeping the area around the plant clean and hydrated. It also keeps bugs such as beetles and slugs away from your fruit.
Cucumbers have an extra fresh, crisp and flavor when eaten soon after harvest. But these tasty green snacks can be stored very easily. Just place them in bags and keep them in the refrigerator for up to three days. Pickling varieties don’t need the fridge and also last longer. It’s best to store your picklers in a cool and dark place until you preserve them.
It is super easy to grow cucumbers and there is so much you can do with them. Take a big crunchy bite from the freshness, or toss it into salads or add them to your smoothies. There’s really no limit to the wonders of this fruit- for taste as well as nutrition.
You simply have to remember when to harvest cucumbers depending on your preferences, either sliced or pickled. And you’re good to go!
We have a lot of different helpful guides on the site. Everything from how to grow plants, how to prune them as well as how to harvest certain fruits and veggies. Check them out today!