Cucumbers are a fruit

So you have planted a couple cucumber plants in your garden expecting some beautiful fruit in a couple months.

Unfortunately, when they day comes you notice that many of the cucumbers in your harvest are deformed and shaped oddly.

They are still edible and taste pretty good, but you are confused as to why they have a deformed shape.

Here are a few things that causes a deformed cucumber.

Improper Pollination

Obviously your cucumber was pollinated or it would not be there in the first place, but improper pollination can lead to a deformed cucumber.

The female flowers need to be completely pollinated in order to grow a fully developed cucumber.

This lack of complete pollination leads to only part of the cucumber becoming fully developed.

You need bees in order to pollinate cucumbers, and if there are a low number of bees to thoroughly distribute the pollen to the flower, the cucumber will become only partially pollinated.

The end of your cucumber that looks normal received enough pollen. The end that looks deformed did not, which is usually the blossom end.

If you have low pollinator activity around your cucumber plants, and you are getting a bunch of deformed cucumbers, you may need to resort to hand pollinating the female flowers.

Hot Temperatures

Very warm temperatures can cause a deformed cucumber in a couple different ways.

First, heat can kill the pollen leaving it virtually sterile. Bees may carry both live and dead pollen to the female flower. The live pollen will pollinate a portion of the cucumber, while the dead pollen does nothing. This can contribute to improper pollination and a deformed cucumber.

Heat can also cause moisture stress in the cucumber. Cucumbers need plenty of water while setting and developing fruit.

A lack of water during hot, dry conditions can cause the fruit to form in a peculiar shape.

To avoid this make sure you provide plenty of water once the plant sets and starts developing fruit. This is very important during those scorching hot summer days.

Too Much Fertilizer

Adding too much nitrogen-based fertilizers can also result in deformed cucumbers. Make sure you have rich soil to begin with and you will not usually need to add any fertilizers to begin with.

Incorporate plenty of organic matter, such as compost, into the soil a few weeks before planting. You can also side dress plants with rich compost throughout the season instead of adding any fertilizers.

Giving the cucumber plants a good feeding of diluted fish emulsion will help keep the plants thriving and continually producing throughout the season.

Delicious Cucumber Varieties!

Cucumbers

Cucumis sativus

Used the world over, either fresh, pickled or as an ingredient in many a dish, Cucumbers have a lovely place in the Summer garden. Although they need a fair amount of love and tenderness they reward the grower with beautiful fruit. Home grown cucumbers are usually a bit knobbly and may not be as perfect as the shop bought, but they make up for that in their taste and texture.

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: July to March
Temperate Areas: September to January
Cool to Cold Areas: October to December

Location
Cucumber’s can be a bit fussy about position. In cool zones, they love nothing more than a spot in full sun. However, in areas with hot summers, a little tenderness and shade will encourage your cucumbers. You can actually grow cucumbers in about 30% – 50 % shade in places where the air is warm. A simple shade covering, temporary or something more permanent will protect the plants from the harsh sun as well as reducing the risk of scarring the fruit, (it might have the added benefit of protecting your plants from pests too).

Another thing to consider with cucumbers is that they are essentially vines and they need to climb. Pick a position that provides them with the right amount of sun and also gives them a bit of support. Fences and trellis do fine as do wire supports. Alternatively you can use sweet corn as a “living stake” for cucumbers. It makes the most of the space in your patch and is a sustainable solution for staking. This works best where there is good airflow ; and these two are excellent companions.

Soil
Good soil preparation is vitally important. Cucumbers need a friable (loose), well drained soil, full of organic matter, especially compost. Plant in a mound about 40cm across, with two cucumbers to each mound. This acts to improve drainage. Add a good straw mulch to help keep the roots cool, stop the soil drying out and prevent the fruit come into contact with the ground, helping to prevent fungal diseases, (more on that later).

Feeding
Being a fruiting plant, cucumbers require a reasonably high level of feeding, especially when it comes to fruiting. This means that they will pretty much take in whatever food is available and this is where you need to be a bit careful. A good amount of compost is the best starting point. Anything stronger than this can encourage a lot of healthy leaf growth but does not encourage fruiting. Give cucumbers a feed at planting time with either watered down worm wee or a seaweed based liquid feed. Feed again when you see the first little fruits appear (they look like tiny gherkin).

What about the Water?
Cucumbers present a convincing argument for drip-irrigation and rainwater tanks – they are thirsty! Installing drip irrigation in your produce patch should always be considered, but it’s almost a necessity with cucumbers. Drippers on top of the soil, under a nice 5cm – 7cm layer of mulch and directed around the base of your plants is perfect. Its puts the water exactly where it’s needed… the roots!

Cucumbers don’t respond well to other methods of watering as they are susceptible to fungal diseases if their foliage is wet. Don’t let them dry out either or you may end up with bitter or dry fruit. If you must hand water cucumbers, make sure you do it first thing in the morning ensuring that you are aiming mainly at the root zone of the plant avoiding the foliage.

Harvesting
The variety of cucumber you chose will determine when it’s ready to pick and a number of varieties that have multiple uses. If you want gherkins, pick the long, green cucumbers when they are about 5cm – 10cm in length. Alternatively, these can be left on the plant and picked when they are 15cm – 20cm for tasty “salad” cucumbers. Same deal for Lebanese cucumbers. The round apple shaped cucumbers are best picked when they are about tennis ball size. Cucumbers generally take about 8 – 10 weeks to ripen, stretching out to 12 – 14 weeks for apple cucumbers. Make sure you monitor your vines regularly; it’s better to harvest when cucumbers are under-ripe, rather than over-ripe.

When harvesting its best not to pull the fruit off the vine. Pulling them off can snap the vine in half and seriously jeopardise the rest of your crop. Cut the cucumbers off with a sharp pair of clean scissors or secateurs, making sure you leave a bit of stem attached to the fruit.

Pests and the Rest
Cucumbers, like many vines, are susceptible to fungal infections. Prevention is much better than a cure so; clean straw mulch, drip irrigation, good air movement, a trellis or support and root level or early morning watering should deter fungal spores.

Another issues faced by the cucumber is lack of bee activity to pollinate the flowers. Encourage bees into your patch by planting a diverse selection of flowering companion plants, edible and non-edible. This will hopefully reduce the use of unnecessary pesticides in the garden that often wipe out the good guys as well as the bad. You can hand pollinate your cucumbers if you are concerned; simply pick a male flower (one without a small fruit forming at the base) and touch it lightly onto the centre stem of the female flower.

Final Tip
Give your cucumbers a little pinch! “Pinching out” is a term that just means removing wee bits of the plants to encourage better growth and fruiting. Pinch out growing tips when they have formed about five to seven leaves; also pinch out the laterals (side shoots) that have produced a number of leaves (about eight to ten) but no female flowers ( the ones with the miniature cucumber where the petals start).

Photos
Photos taken by Elaine Shaulle (SGA) and Mary Trigger (SGA)

Cucumbers Not Straight – Why Are My Cucumbers Curling?

Nothing gets a gardener’s heart racing like the appearance of the first flowers of the season in their vegetable garden. Some denizens of the garden, like tomatoes or squash, may give little trouble, but cucumbers can be picky about growing conditions when they’re fruiting. Often, this results in curly cucumber fruit, or otherwise deformed cucumbers, and one huge disappointment for gardeners who waited all winter for perfect, straight fruits.

Why are My Cucumbers Curling?

Cucumber fruit curl, properly known as crooking, is a common condition of cucumbers. There are many causes, requiring you to do a little detective work to correct the situation.

Pollination Problems: Even when there are plenty of pollinators in your garden, conditions might not be right to ensure complete pollination. Pollen requires semi-humid, warm conditions to be as its best, and when it’s too dry or prolonged rains occur during flowering, cucumber ovaries may not be fully pollinated. You can hand pollinate cucumbers to achieve better pollination results, but if the weather is against you, fruits may still curl.

Incorrect Growing Conditions: Cucumbers need very specific cultural conditions when their fruits are developing or those fruits may become deformed. Evenly moist soil at temperatures above 60 F. (16 C.) are ideal for straight fruits. Try adding up to 4 inches of organic mulch if your earliest fruits are crooked and water your plants any time the top inch of soil below the mulch feels dry.

Poor Nutrition: Cucumbers are heavy feeders and require a significant amount of nutrition to fruit properly. Prior to planting, each cucumber plant should be provided with about 6 ounces of 13-13-13 fertilizer, then side dressed with 6 additional ounces every two three weeks once the vines start to run.

Physical Interference: If you discover newly-forming cucumbers not straight when they’re sprawling on the ground, try training them up a trellis or fence. As the ovaries of cucumber flowers are elongating, young fruits can easily deform when they catch on flower petals, vines or leaves. Growing them on a trellis gives fruits more space to spread, away from physical barriers.

Insect Pests: Sap-sucking pests sometimes interfere with developing cucumber fruits, though the cucumber fruit curl that results from this sort of damage will have a much more irregular pattern than other causes. Whiteflies, mites and thrips are among the most troublesome of the sap-feeders, though aphids, mealybugs or scale can be occasional pests. Treat these pests with insecticidal soap or neem oil weekly until you no longer see signs of activity.

First Report of Tomato yellow leaf curl virus Infecting Cucumber in Kuwait

Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is an important vegetable crop in Kuwait. Between September 2013 to April 2014, symptoms suggestive of geminivirus infection were noticed. These included upward leaf curling, chlorosis, plant dwarfing, mosaic, yellowing, and fruit and leaf deformation. During the survey, high incidences of symptomatic plants were observed in both greenhouse and field-grown cucumber plants and estimates of yield loss exceeded 80% in both Wafra (south) and Abdally (north) Kuwait agricultural district areas. Total genomic DNA was extracted from symptomatic leaves cucumber plants using the Dellaporta method (Dellaporta 1983) and was subjected to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) with one set of TYLCV-specific primer TY1 (+), 5′-GCCCATGTA(T/C)CG(A/G)AAGCC-3′; TY2 (-), 5′-GG(A/G)TTAGA(A/G)GCATG(A/C)GTAC-3′ (Accotto et al. 2000). An amplicon of expected size (∼500 bp) representing the coat protein gene was obtained. DNA preparations from four of these plants were then used in RCA using the Templiphi Kit (GE healthcare) and were sequenced (GenBank Accession No. KR108214). Sequence comparisons showed that viral genome was most closely related to a Kuwaiti isolate of TYLCV with 99% nucleotide identity (Al-Ali et al. 2015). Subsequently, all the symptomatic plants from greenhouse and fields were tested by DAS-ELISA using TYLCV-specific antiserum (Bioreba) and 45 of the 50 samples tested were found to be infected by TYLCV. TYLCV infection of cucumber was reported earlier from Jordan (Anfoka et al. 2009). To our knowledge, this is the first report of TYLCV infecting cucumber in Kuwait. Considering its widespread occurrence in tomato and cucumber and the associated yield losses, management tactics need to be developed to reduce its impact.

Bite into a crunchy pickle (because the best pickles are always crunchy) and the last thing you’ll think of is “sweet,” but your dill obsession is ALL LIES. That’s because cucumbers are — news flash — technically fruits.

Just like tomatoes, pumpkins, and avocados, cukes count as vegetables in terms of supermarket organization, but not in the world of science. Botanically speaking, they’re more akin to watermelon and squash than carrots or lettuce. The truth is in the seeds.

All About Cukes

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, fruit is “the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a flowering plant enclosing the seed or seeds.” Likewise, Merriam-Webster defines it as “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant.”

In the botany world, cucumbers further get classified as pepos, a type of berry with a hard outer rind and no internal divisions. Pumpkins, zucchini, and watermelons also go in this category. In fact, they all belong to the same gourd family, Cucurbitaceae.

While growers and chefs may still treat cucumbers as vegetables, they’re a solid food choice however you slice it.

“Cucumbers are an easy, nutritionally dense veggie filled with water and fiber,” says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. The negligible amount of calories in each cuke (just 16 in an entire cup!) means it’s the perfect vehicle for spreads and dips — like London’s favorites, hummus, goat cheese, and feta.

What about your beloved brine-soaked sours? “Pickles are a great choice too,” she says. “They help satisfy a ‘crunchy snack’ hankering, have all of the salty glory of some less-nutritious items like fried chips, and provide the benefit of still being a vegetable.”

Or a fruit — but you don’t have to think about that the next time you twist open a jar.

Caroline Picard Health Editor Caroline is the Health Editor at GoodHousekeeping.com covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news.

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