Tips for Harvesting Cucumbers

harvested cucumber

The main factor when harvesting cucumbers is size. So how big should the cucumbers get before they are ready to be picked? That depends on the variety of cucumber and how you intend to use them. Pickling cucumbers should typically be harvested when they are 3-5 inches long.  Of course, there are some varieties that should be picked much earlier, like Gherkin or small, round cucumber varieties.

When we think about harvesting cucumbers for pickles, our main considerations are texture and seed size.  In most cases, smaller cucumbers are crisper and crunchier, which is how we like our pickles.  Especially when dealing with multi-use varieties, you should usually pick the cucumbers you want to pickle a day or two earlier than you think.  Yes, the cucumbers will be smaller, but they will make up for their lack of size with great texture.

When considering the size of the seeds, always remember, the more mature the cucumber, the larger the seeds will get.  Seeds in an immature cucumber are small, soft, very thin and usually translucent.  These seeds are easy to eat.  As the cucumber grows, the seeds become less and less palatable.  They get larger, thicker and harder.  Cucumbers with large seeds just don't make very good pickles.

Growing Pickling Cucumber

Slicing cucumbers are a different story and are usually harvested when they are 6-9 inches long, depending on the variety. However, they can be harvested earlier if you so desire.  In most cases, the plants will keep setting new cucumbers as long as you keep picking them.  So, it's usually better to error on the side of caution and pick them a day or two earlier than you think, just for consistent texture and flavor.

The earlier the cucumbers are harvested, the smaller and more tender the seeds will be. Most folks prefer more flesh than seeds when eating cucumbers, so consider harvesting earlier rather than later. A cucumber that is yellow in color is usually over-ripe and will be bitter. Even lemon cucumbers should be harvested just before they turn completely yellow. Before adding cucumbers to a salad or other recipe, it's a good idea to taste a tiny portion to make sure that the fruit is acceptable for consumption.  You can be easily surprised to find that a larger cucumber could still be mild and crisp, while other times that same sized cucumber could be a little softer and more bitter, depending on growing conditions, when it was picked, variety, etc...

Like many other vegetable plants in your garden, the more cucumbers you harvest, the more cucumbers the plant will produce. During peak production, it's a good idea to check the vines on a daily basis because cucumbers tend to grow quickly. You may see a 3 inch cucumber one day and find that it is 5-6 inches long the following day.

When harvesting cucumbers, use a knife or shears to cut the stem above the fruit. Avoid pulling on the cucumbers because the vines tend to be slightly brittle and break easily.

About a month before the first expected frost in your area, it's a good idea to pinch off any remaining blossoms on your cucumber plants. This encourages the remaining fruits to mature more quickly before the cold weather kills them.

Mature Slicing Cucumbers

After harvesting cucumbers, wash off any dirt and use them as soon as possible. If needed, cucumbers will keep up to 7-9 days in your refrigerator. Home grown cucumbers usually don't keep as long as commercially grown cucumbers. Store bought cucumbers are usually waxed to prevent moisture loss. Cucumbers from your garden will keep better if you wrap them in plastic wrap or place them in a sealed zipper bag before placing them in the refrigerator. This will prevent them from drying out.

Cucumbers don't freeze well because of their high water content. If you want to store your cucumbers for much longer than a week, pickling them is really your only option.  And when it comes to pickles, there are lots of flavors and methods you can use to preserve your harvest.  Refrigerator pickles are usually the easiest to make, however, they typically don't last as long as canned pickles.  Refrigerator pickles also take up space in your refrigerator.

We typically make several jars of refrigerator pickles every year.  We usually make a couple of gallon-sized jars of refrigerator dill pickles and a few quarts of refrigerator bread and butter pickles.  We let them sit for about a month before opening them up, and they are usually gone about a month after that.  The rest of the pickles we make are canned.  This makes them shelf-stable so we can store them in our pantry.

When most folks think about eating cucumbers, pickles and sliced, raw cucumbers come to mind. You may be surprised to learn that there are many other recipes that feature cucumbers.

Cucumber Slices

Click here for some of our favorite cucumber recipes

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