By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
It’s hard to wait for those first tastes of your summer harvest, and cucumbers are no exception. You should know when to pick a cucumber in order to experience the crisp, juicy flesh perfect for salads, pickling, and many other uses. But when and how do you harvest them?
There are two main types of cucumber. Slicing varieties are meant to be eaten fresh, while pickling types are bumpy, rough, and require blanching and pickling for the best flavor. Whichever variety you choose to grow, you need to know how to tell when cucumbers are ready to pick.
When to Pick a Cucumber
Cucumbers need a long growing season and are ready for harvest in 50 to 70 days. Harvesting ripe cucumbers at the right time ensure sweet fruits that have no bitterness. Cucumbers left on the vine too long have a bitter taste that ruins the fresh flavor. The fruits ripen at different times on the vine, so it is essential to pick them as they are ready.
Harvest when the fruit is the right size, which is usually eight to ten days after the first female flowers open. Cucumbers must be picked before they show the first signs of yellowing, which indicates the fruits are past their prime.
How to Tell When Cucumbers are Ready to Pick
The question, “Do cucumbers ripen after you pick them”, must be met with a resounding, “no.” Unlike some fruits, cucumbers do not continue to develop after harvest. Ripe cucumbers have a firm, green flesh. The exact size depends on the use and variety. Pickling fruits may be two to six inches (5-15 cm.) long. Slicing cucumbers are best at 6 inches (15 cm.) and the “burpless” varieties are best harvested at 1 to 1 ½ inches (2.5-4 cm.) in diameter.
During the peak of the season, you’ll be harvesting ripe cucumbers every day or two. The optimum time for picking is early in the morning when the vines are cool. Now that you know when to pick a cucumber, it’s time to learn how to harvest cucumbers.
How to Harvest Cucumbers
Remove fruits that are stunted and not growing, have rotten ends, or are past their prime. This prevents the plant from focusing energy on fruits that are a waste anyway.
Use garden shears or pruners when harvesting ripe cucumbers. Removing the fruit with a sharp implement will prevent injury to the vine by twisting or pulling. Cut the stem ¼ inch (6 mm.) above the fruit.
The long burpless cucumbers are sensitive to bruising. Lay them gently in a basket or box as you gather ripe fruit.
Storing Cucumber Fruit
Cucumbers are best fresh but they may be stored in the crisper for up to three days. You can just place the fruits in loose plastic or perforated bags. Avoid stacking them and keep them from smashing against the side of the crisper drawer. Commercial growers use wax coatings when storing cucumber fruit to prevent moisture loss.
Pickling cucumbers will keep a bit longer and do not necessarily need to be refrigerated. Store them in a cool, dark place for up to five days before preserving them.
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