There are many types and varieties of cucumber available, each with their own taste and talents, but learning when to harvest them is key to making the most of this versatile fruit. From crisp salads, filling deli rolls to pickled, canned and adorning cocktails, this curious elongated crop is one of the most popular (and satisfying) to grow at home.
Taking as little as 12 weeks to fully develop, timing your picking right can make the huge difference to the results. Time it perfectly and cucumbers are simply delicious – high in vitamins, valuable antioxidants and good source of potassium, magnesium and manganese. Made up of 96% water growing cucumbers to eat is also great for boosting hydration and concentration too.
Leave the fruit on the plant too long and the results can be disappointing, not just a deterioration goodness but the taste becomes distinctly bitter and unpleasant. Be sure to know what to look out for in harvest season in order to pick cucumbers with the best flavor ready for your summer salads or pickling. It is good practice
When to pick cucumbers
Quick and easy-to-grow, these juicy favorites are simple to harvest if you know what signs to look for. Outdoor grown veg can be picked up until September while glass grown produce can continue fruiting into October, if the air temperature is warm enough.
‘Cucumbers need to be watched closely, as they will become overripe quickly,’ says Shannie McCabe at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. ‘You can tell fruit have gotten overripe when the skin becomes tough and yellow and the fruit swell and become more rounded. Because of the incredible genetic diversity of cucumbers it is best to take a good look at the photo on your seed pack and aim to harvest when the cucumbers look like the picture, as some cucumbers are naturally rounded and others have gone too far when they go round, colors will also range.’
Whether you have grown your cucumbers from store-bought plants or planted cucumber seeds, you will be looking out for the same indicators that it is a good time to harvest your cucumbers.
How do you know when a cucumber is ready to pick?
'A general rule for when they are ready to pick is that they will be a mid-green color,' explains Angela Slater, gardening expert at Hayes Garden World. 'Large burpless cucumbers are ready at about 10 inches, mini cucumbers about 6 inches, and pickling cucumbers about 4inches.'
‘It is best to pick these fruits when they have firmed up to enjoy them at their sweetest and most flavorsome.’ adds Rachel Crow, garden expert for Homes & Gardens.
To test the firmness of your cucumber fruit, apply gentle pressure using your fingers. It should be firm but not solid as this suggests the fruit is immature. If your cucumber is soft or yellow in color, it suggests that is now overripe. Whilst you can still eat overripe cucumbers, their flavor will likely be more bitter and the seeds will be more pronounced.
Some cucumber varieties will vary with it comes to size, so when planting a less common cucumber variety it is best to do your research. Typically, all cucumbers ripen between 50 and 70 days after planting.
Cucumber plants produce fruit much faster than most garden plants, so it is necessary to pick your cumbers regularly to prevent overripe fruit or an overladen plant. 'Check your plants every day as they grow rapidly and soon grow overripe,' explains Angela.
What conditions are right for harvesting cucumbers?
For the tastiest results it’s best to pick these water laden fruits early in the morning when temperatures are low. Cut the fruits from the plant using secateurs or a sharp knife and store somewhere cool. Some experts suggest plunging these close relatives of melons and pumpkins briefly into an ice bath immediately after harvest, to help preserve the flavor, crispness and reduce evaporation.
Can you pick cucumbers early?
If you are desperate to try your cucumbers and can’t wait for them to reach perfect ripeness, it is safe to harvest and eat cucumbers early. It is also best to pick cucumbers slightly earlier than usual to prevent any fruit from going to waste or being taken by birds and other garden critters.
Younger cucumbers will be sweet but very crunchy so allowing them to grow to their ideal size will give you the best flavor and texture.
When to pick cucumbers off the vine
Rachel recommends picking cucumbers early in the morning when the vines are damp with dew and easy to cut.
Angela adds, 'to harvest, cut the stem about half an inch from the fruit, using a clean sharp pair of secateurs. Take care as they bruise easily. Don’t just pull them off the plant as you may cause damage or even uproot the vine.'
This method is recommended so that you don’t twist and damage the stems that can continue to produce throughout the harvest season.
Make sure to check your cucumber plants thoroughly as it is easy to miss fruit behind the vines and leaves. Leaving cucumbers on the vine for too long can prematurely mature your plant and slow or reduce its production.
How often can you harvest cucumbers?
Little and often is the best way to savor a tasty and continual supply. Optimum picking size really depends on the variety so always check the seed packet or plant label. Smaller varieties are usually best around 4 inches (10cm) long while full-sized cucumbers are at their tastiest around 6–8 inches (15–20cm). Of course, these fruits aren’t necessarily long and straight. ‘Crystal Apple’ is an outdoor, prickly, round crop – best picked when it reaches the size of a golf ball, while pale ‘Dragon Egg’s’ are smooth, oval and sweeter than usual and are their best around the size of a duck egg.
How to extend your cucumber harvest
Learning how to prune cucumber plants is important for extending your cucumber harvest.
As you approach the end of each cucumber season around mid-fall, prune off any under-developed cucumbers to allow the plant to focus on the fruits closer to maturity. This way you will have a better chance of yielding perfect fruits in the end.
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Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for a year, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.
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