You’ve planted cucumbers and they’re growing just like you hoped they would. Whether you’re planning a cold cucumber soup, thinly sliced cucumber in a summer salad, or a garlic-rich tzatziki dip, you’re going to need to harvest your cucumbers before they ripen fully and start to yellow.
Whatever your reason for planting cucumbers, color and size are key when it comes to harvesting them.
When to harvest cucumbers? You must harvest them when they are dark green and big enough to eat or pickle. It’s almost that simple. But the texture is also important and size depends on the variety and largely on what you plan to do with them.
How Do You Know When Your Cucumber Is Ready to Harvest?
Unlike root vegetables, cucumbers are an easy fruit to assess in terms of the best time to harvest them. You can see them and feel them!
Generally, they are ready to harvest between 50 and 70 days after they are planted. Different cucumber varieties grow at different rates, as do the cucumbers on any one cucumber plant.
This is why we harvest cucumbers progressively, usually every couple of days.
They should be firm to the touch and have uniformly green skins. You don’t want the skins to get too thick or the seeds to go hard.
If you leave them too long, cucumbers will get yellow and bitter. But the fruit ripens progressively, so you can continue to harvest your cucumbers frequently.
Regular harvesting will encourage the continued production of your crop.
But harvesting will also depend on the variety you are growing. According to the University of Illinois Extension, pickling cucumbers should be picked every day.
Slicing cucumbers can be harvested every couple of days, or when needed. Just be sure to pick before it turns yellow.
If you did successive plantings, this will make a difference too as they will ripen over a longer period of time.
Varieties of Cucumbers
There are several types of cucumbers including those that are intended for eating fresh and those that are intended for pickling.
Another classification of cucumber types is bush cucumbers and vine cucumbers. Bush cucumbers are more compact and generally better suited to small gardens.
However, vine cucumbers can be trained along a fence or up a trellis in small gardens.
Cucumbers that are bred for eating fresh are also known as slicing cucumbers. There are fresh slicing bush and vine cultivars, including mild, sweet burpless cucumbers.
Burpless cucumbers, which are usually grown in hothouses, are not suitable for pickling.
They have thin, dark green skins that are tender and not bitter. And they are the most popular store cucumbers.
Pickling cucumbers have rough, uneven skin and are smaller than slicing cucumbers. Cucumbers grown for pickling are usually harvested when they are between 3 and 4 inches long. You can peel and slice them for salads as well as pickling them.
Gherkins are also grown for pickling. While they are a close relative of the cucumber (Cucumis sativus), they are not cucumbers.
Sometimes called burr cucumbers, gherkins are more oval than cucumbers. They are also more spiny than cucumbers and only grow up to 3 inches long.
Some fruit and vegetable shops sell prickly, small-fruited pickling cucumbers as gherkins. Whatever they are, the pickled results will be much of a muchness.
Both pickled cucumbers and pickled gherkins are sometimes referred to as dills. But they will only become dills when they are pickled with fresh dill or dill seeds.
Gynoecious hybrids, which are female flowering, are hybrids of slicing and pickling cucumbers. Because this type of cucumber only has a female flower, they often fruit earlier and produce a bigger crop.
Suppliers of gynoecious hybrids often mix a few standard cucumber seeds with the hybrid seed as a pollinator.
Importance of Size When You Harvest Cucumbers
When harvesting cucumbers, size is the most important factor.
Big cucumbers may look amazing, but they will invariably taste bitter. So, there’s no point in allowing them to grow any larger than they should.
The mature size of different types of cucumbers will be specified on the seed packet. It’s time to pick cucumbers when they get to this size, or even before they reach this size.
The Best Size to Pick Cucumbers
Most slicing cucumbers will be ready to harvest when they are 6-8 inches long. They will usually also have dark green skins.
Some large, burpless cucumbers can grow as long as 10-12 inches.
Pickling cucumbers are usually picked when they are only about 4 inches long.
You can start harvesting pickling cucumbers when they are about 2 inches long. But don’t let them grow longer than about 5 inches long.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Cucumbers?
If you don’t harvest cucumbers the skins will become thick and tough. If it turns yellow, it will also become very bitter, and will quickly become inedible.
So, even if you don’t plan to eat them immediately, harvest your cucumbers when they have green skins and are the best size for slicing or pickling. You can store them in a refrigerator for about a week to 10 days, maybe 2 weeks max.
If you don’t harvest pickling cucumbers in time, their centers tend to soften and the cucumbers won’t be firm to the touch.
If cucumbers turn yellow, the seeds will start to harden. All is not necessarily lost. You can dry the seeds and try planting them in time for the next growing season.
Because harvesting cucumber plants encourages the growth of more fruit, if you don’t harvest your cucumbers, the cucumber plants will stop producing fruit.
How to Harvest Cucumbers
When the first of your fruits have grown to the right size, you can start to harvest your crop. Cucumbers mature quickly and you will usually be able to harvest every couple of days or even every day.
The Best Time & Temperature to Harvest Cucumbers
If you’ve ever wondered about the phrase, as cool as a cucumber, it’s because on a hot summer day the flesh inside the cucumber is a good 60 degrees cooler than the outside air! However, the best time to harvest cucumbers is early in the morning when it’s cool.
Cucumbers harvested early in the day before the sun hits them, will ensure the best possible texture and flavor.
Cut Don’t Pull or Twist Your Cucumbers
Cucumber stems tend to be tough, so don’t pull the fruit of your cucumber plants. This could damage the stems or roots of the plants. Also, avoid trampling the stems and leaves.
Instead, tread carefully and clip the fruit from the plant with secateurs or a sharp knife. Make sure there is about an inch of the stem still attached to the cucumber.
Leave this on the cucumber if you’re going to store it. It will stop the stem end from going soft and starting to rot.
Pick & Discard Damaged Cucumbers
While the plants continue to produce fruit, leave the cucumbers growing. If any of the fruit is damaged, pick and discard it to avoid the plant wasting energy.
Finish Harvesting Before The Frost
Here’s a tip for cucumber growers who live in areas that experience frost.
Pinch off all the flowers that are still on your cucumber plants 30-40 days before you expect the first frost. This will help the remaining fruit grow more quickly and reach maturity before the frost kills the cucumbers.
Should You Wash Cucumbers after Harvesting?
After harvesting cucumbers, you should always wash off any sand or dirt. Even if they look clean, rinse them before eating, pickling, or storing them.
Just remember that it’s important to ensure that they are 100% dry before you store them in the refrigerator.
Can You Eat Cucumbers Immediately after Harvesting?
You should eat cucumbers as soon as possible after harvesting. The flavor is best soon after you pick cucumbers.
Homegrown slicing cucumbers don’t need to be peeled.
It’s not difficult to identify when cucumbers are ready for harvesting. The most important factors are that the skin should be dark green, the fruit should be firm to the touch, and the length of the cucumbers should be within the range specified for that variety or those types of cucumbers.
Cucumbers that aren’t harvested within these parameters will become yellow. Their pips will get hard and they will taste bitter.
The harvesting process is remarkably simple. When you harvest progressively, every second day or so, you’ll have a steady crop ready for the table or pickling.
Our Planting Guide has lots of tips that are guaranteed to help you harvest your cucumbers quickly and easily, without damaging the cucumber plants.
Whether you plan to pickle your cucumber crop, slice the cucumbers and have them in sandwiches or salads, add them to smoothies, make yummy creamy tzatziki, or a green gazpacho, or perhaps slice them up and serve with watermelon and feta cheese. Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil and mint and a squeeze of lime juice. It’ll be a winner.
When you’re ready, get picking, and remember to stay as cool as a cucumber! You can be sure that your homegrown cucumbers will be a lot tastier than the usual store cucumbers. Enjoy.