By Jennifer Poindexter
Do you enjoy growing cucumbers around your garden? Have you struggled to find the perfect time to pick the harvest?
Growing cucumbers is a simple task but knowing when to harvest them can be tricky. If you harvest too early, you may not receive a full-sized cucumber.
However, if you harvest too late, they don’t taste the same. How do you know the right time to harvest, and how do you ensure you don’t miss your window?
I have a few tips to help you figure out the best time to pick your homegrown cucumbers. Here’s what you should know:
1. Make Sure the Cucumbers are the Right Size
There are many varieties of cucumbers, but they can be placed in three general categories. If you select a burpless cucumber, it should be ready to pick when it’s approximately one inch long.
Should you select a slicing cucumber, wait until they become larger. They’re typically ready when they’re between six and eight inches in length. Finally, pickling cucumbers are ready when they’re between two and six inches in length.
2. Look for Signs on the Cucumber Plants
Did you know you can’t just go by size alone when picking a cucumber? There are a few additional things you should look for when deciding if it’s the right time to harvest this crop.
One thing to consider is has the cucumber dropped its bloom? If the plant is within the appropriate size, but still has a fully colored bloom attached to its tip, it’s not ready yet. As you see the bloom shrivel or drop, you’ll know the cucumber is ready for harvest.
3. Look at the Color of the Cucumber
The next step to knowing when to pick cucumbers is to check the coloration of the fruit itself. Is your cucumber fully green?
Plus, some varieties develop a bumpy texture. If your cucumber has developed this (if the variety calls for it) and is a rich green, it’s another sign that it’s time to harvest.
4. Feel the Cucumber
We’ve already discussed the texture that some cucumbers develop as they mature, but there is more to feel for when deciding if a cucumber is ready.
As you pick cucumbers, take a firm grasp of each one. Does the cucumber feel firm and crisp? If so, it’s prime time for picking. If the cucumber is still small, you’re probably early. Should the cucumber appear limp, soggy, or overly large, you’ve missed the window for picking and should discard cucumbers which share this appearance.
5. Check Your Cucumbers Daily
A trick to picking cucumbers at the right time, and avoiding missing the appropriate window, is to check your cucumber plants daily.
Understand, even if you check the vines daily and stake them, some cucumbers may still hide from you on the vine. However, by checking your plants daily, it lessens your chance of overlooking too many cucumbers.
6. Pick the Cucumbers at the Right Time of Day
This is something I’ve just started doing this year, but I’ve found it to be true in my experience. It’s best to wake up bright and early to pick your cucumbers. Don’t pick when the vines are going through the heat of the day.
Instead, remove the harvest from the vine while the plant is still cool. My plants seem healthier, and my cucumbers feel crisper. When harvesting cucumbers, always remember to cut them from the vine instead of twisting or pulling as this avoids damage to the plant.
7. Pay Attention to the Taste of the Cucumber
When I first began growing cucumbers many years ago, I couldn’t figure out why my harvest was bitter. The more I’ve grown cucumbers I’ve learned that if you want a delicious cucumber with a sweeter flavor, it’s important to harvest them on time.
As cucumbers hang on the vine, they’ll become bitter overtime. Therefore, if your cucumbers appear to be the right color and texture but hold a bitter taste, try picking them a little earlier to see if their flavor improves.
8. Look Out For Yellow Cucumbers
If you’ve ever grown cucumbers, you know that when a cucumber is hanging on the vine, is overly large, and is yellow, you’ve probably missed your window. In most cases, old cucumbers turn yellow and don’t taste very good. These usually become treats for my chickens.
There are a few other reasons which can turn cucumbers yellow as well. It could be a sign of a lack of nutrients, lack of water, a viral infection in the plant, or you could have planted a yellow variety of cucumber such as the lemon cucumber. If you have yellow cucumbers, take the time to figure out why to ensure you don’t waste your harvest.
Cucumbers aren’t a fast growing plant. In most cases, they take between two and three months before they’re ready to harvest.
Therefore, if you’re wondering when to pick your cucumbers, look at the calendar. Know your plant date and begin checking your cucumber plants around the two month mark after planting. You should begin seeing cucumbers appear and know that even if they aren’t ready yet, they should be soon.
10. Store Your Cucumber Harvest Properly
The last tip to picking cucumbers is storing your harvest properly. It does you no good to pick the cucumbers at the right time if you don’t know how to maximize their lifespan once off the vine to ensure you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Once the cucumbers are harvested, be sure to store them based on the variety you grow. Most varieties can be stored in the fridge for approximately three days. It helps to wrap them individually in aluminum foil to stop moisture from collecting on the outside of the cucumbers. Be mindful not to stack the cucumbers on top of each other.
Pickling cucumbers last a little longer than other varieties. They remain crisper and don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator. Instead, store them in a cool, dark location (without stacking the harvest on top of one another), and they should last for approximately five days.
11. Enjoying Your Cucumber Harvest
We can’t end this article without sharing a few ideas for using your cucumber harvest. After all, many people don’t grow cucumbers because they don’t know what to do with them.
If you don’t enjoy pickles, do cucumbers have a place in your garden? The answer is a resounding yes!
I love homegrown cucumbers for many reasons. You may use fresh cucumbers as a snack. They taste great when sprinkled in Everything But the Bagel Seasoning and served with a creamy dip.
Homegrown cucumbers are delicious when cut up alongside red onion, tomatoes, and splashed with Italian dressing for an easy tomato and cucumber salad.
You may also use the cucumbers to make canned pickles or refrigerator pickles.
Some people slice cucumbers and freeze them on a sheet pan. Once they’re frozen, they place them in a storage bag and freeze them.
Then when they’d like to infuse their water with cucumber, they place a few slices into their glass, as needed.
Finally, my favorite new way of using my cucumber harvest is to slice the cucumbers, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and dehydrate them.
They make delicious vegetable chips. If you need a shelf-stable healthier snack, this could be a nice, frugal option.
As you can see, harvesting cucumbers definitely has its perks considering all the amazing things you can do with the harvest once it’s ready.
However, it’s vital that you look for all the signs that your cucumbers are ready. In most cases, it’s best to pick cucumbers earlier rather than pick later as the texture and flavor are compromised when they’re left hanging on the vine for too long.
Now that you know these tips, try growing a few cucumber plants. Ensure you care for them properly and stake them to keep the plants healthier and make picking easier.
Hopefully, these tips will help you discern when your harvest is ready, so you can get the most enjoyment out of this delicious plant.