Can You Pick A Cucumber Too Early?

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Can You Pick A Cucumber Too Early? Identifying the ideal time to pick a Cucumber can be difficult for many beginner gardeners. This is because most of the physical changes observed in Cucumbers signal when the Cucumber is past its best. This means that you need to pick Cucumbers before there are any physical signs that it is ready. So can you pick a Cucumber too early?

The good news is that Cucumbers can be eaten when they are immature. This means that they can be picked at any stage before the seeds become relatively large and harden. So when in doubt it is best to pick Cucumbers earlier rather than later as they can become bitter, discolor or suffer a loss of texture.

How Do You Know When Cucumbers Are Ready To Be Picked?

While you are better to harvest cucumbers earlier rather than later there are a couple of signs to look for if you want to pick Cucumbers at their absolute peak to get the maximum flavor. There are 3 criteria to look for color, size, and firmness that can help you determine if it is the best time to harvest.

The first and most obvious sign is the color at harvest, it should be green. If Cucumbers have turned yellow or beginning to yellow, they are overripe. The obvious exception to this rule is when you are growing to a variety that has yellow skin such as the Crystal Apple Cucumber. In these cases, the other 2 factors need to be relied upon to judge the ripeness of the Cucumber.

The second indicator of ripeness is the size of the Cucumber which typically should be 5 to 8 inches (12.5cm to 20cm) in length for “banana” shaped cucumbers. However, if you are growing a smaller Cucumber such as a Gherkin for the pickling you are aiming for a size around 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm).

For the “apple” type, which is named this because the Cucumbers have a similar shape to an apple, the ideal size is slightly smaller than a tennis ball.

The third indicator of ripeness is how firm the fruit is. If you gently squeeze a Cucumber, it should be firm but not rock hard. Soft Cucumbers indicate that the fruit is overripe.

From the indicators above it is apparent that harvesting a ripe Cucumber is far from an exact science. To provide an additional indicator of when the fruit is ripe the other consideration is the age of the plant. Cucumbers will typically ripen 90 to 110 days after the seed is planted or if you have purchased a seedling it is around 50 to 70 days after planting.

Will Cucumbers Ripen After Picking?

Unlike Tomatoes, Stone fruit, Bananas, and Avocados, Cucumbers will not ripen off the vine. This factor makes the timing of the harvest all the more critical. This is also the case with fruit such as Cantaloupes and Watermelons.

To avoid a glut it is best to harvest the fruit regularly by selecting the largest fruit on the vine to cut first. By removing fruit regularly you will encourage the vine to continually produce flowers and fruit. To learn more about the different types of Cucumbers and how to maximizes fruit production click here.

How Long Do Cucumbers Last After You Pick Them?

Cucumbers will only last for around 1 week in the refrigerator however, one of the things that you can do to extend the shelf life a bit is to wrap the Cucumber in cling wrap film.

You may have noticed that some Cucumbers in the produce section of the grocery store are wrapped in plastic. The plastic wrap serves as an extra layer of protection for Cucumbers and prevents dehydration as the Cucumber is 95% water. This method allows the cucumber to last a few more days in the refrigerator.

However, this technique is much more effective with Cucumber varieties that have thinner skin, which is why not all Cucumbers sold commercially are wrapped in plastic. The thinned-skinned varieties, like the English Cucumbers, benefit from the additional layer of protection while the thick-skinned varies have a relatively tough skin that is sturdy enough to be sold loose.

If you would like to try a few different types of Cucumbers there is over 15 different seed varieties available at Seeds Now in the US and over 20 different varieties available from Thompson & Morgan in the UK.

What To Do With a Glut Of Cucumbers

Given, that Cucumbers do not last long in the Fridge after being picked using up all your Cucumbers when they really start cropping can be a bit problematic. However, there are a couple of really good recipes that can help to use them up and also save them for later.

The first recipe I would like to share with you is one that I was first introduced to by my Grandmother and was one of my favorites as a child. It is simple to make and will help you deal with a glut of both Cucumber and Tomatoes. The steps are as follows;

  • Step 1: Peel the Cucumber and dice it into 1cm cubes
  • Step 2: Take an equal amount, by volume, of Tomatoes and dice them into 1 cm cubes. For this recipe, cherry tomatoes cut in half work really well.
  • Step 3: Place the Tomatoes and Cucumbers into a bowl and add a liberal amount of black pepper to the bowl
  • Step 4: Add balsamic vinegar to dress the salad. Other vinegar may be used but I find Balsamic Vinegar the best for this recipe as it is sweeter.

The other option is to preserve Cucumbers by pickling them which can be done in either using a brine or vinegar. The recipe below uses vinegar which I personally prefer. The recipe calls for sliced Cucumbers however, there is no reason why whole Cucumbers could not be used.

Ingredients

  • Approximately 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) of Cucumbers 
  • 2 tablespoons of Sea Salt
  • 1 litre (1 quart or 4 cups) of White Vinegar
  • 200 to 220 g (1 cup) of Caster Sugar
  • ½ tablespoons Turmeric powder
  • 2 Onions sliced thinly
  • 3 tablespoons of Mustard Seeds
  • 2 tablespoons Fennel Seeds
  • 15 black Peppercorns

Method

Preparing the Cucumbers
  • Step 1: Wash and slice the Cucumbers into thin discs.
  • Step 2: Place the sliced cucumber into a bowl and sprinkle it with salt. Allow the Cucumbers to sit for at least an hour to draw out any liquid.
  • Step 3: After an hour drain the Cucumbers thoroughly. 
  • Step 4: Transfer the Cucumbers to a large bowl and add the Onions, Mustard, and Fennel seeds. Mix everything together well. 
Making the Pickling Solution
  • Step 1: Place the Vinegar, Sugar, Turmeric, and 500 ml (17 fl oz/2 cups) of water into a saucepan. Bring the solution to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes to ensure that the sugar is dissolved. 
Assembling the Cucumber Pickle
  • Step 1: Place 2 to 3 peppercorns into each sterilized jar.
  • Step 2: Pack the Cucumbers into the jars. Ensuring that the jars are not over-filled. This is important as the pickling solution needs to cover every slice of cucumber. If this does not happen there is a risk that bacteria may be allowed to grow on the exposed slices of Cucumber.  
  • Step 3: Fill the jars with the hot pickling solution until the cucumbers are completely covered. Seal the jars then invert them once or twice to ensure that all parts of the jar are sterilized.
  • Step 4: Store the jars in a cool, dark place. The pickles will keep for up to 12 months.

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