Why are cucumbers prickly?

Spiny Cucumbers: Why Do My Cucumbers Get Prickly

My neighbor gave me some cucumber starts this year. She got them from a friend of a friend until no one had any idea what variety they were. Even though I have had a veggie garden for years, I had never actually grown cucumbers. Really! So I plunked them in the garden and surprise! They were rapacious producing spiny cucumbers. Well, I’d never seen spines on cucumbers since I usually get those smooth consumer ready grocery store cukes. So why did my cucumbers get prickly, and are spiny cucumbers normal? Let’s investigate.

Why Do My Cucumbers Get Prickly?

Cucumbers are members of the Cucurbit family along with squash, pumpkins and melons. They are divided between two groups: those for pickling and slicing varieties. Both varieties may have varying degrees of cucumber prickles – so prickly cucumbers is actually quite normal. Some might have tiny little hairs and others all out spines. The slicing varieties are usually less prickly while the pickling types are spinier.

Native to India, cucumbers may have become spiny for the same reason that some animals are camouflaged or have horns…to protect themselves from predators. This is no doubt the case with cucumbers.

Grow cukes in full sun in well-draining soil that has been amended with plenty of compost. Sow seeds inside or wait and sow directly outside when soil temps have warmed to at least 60 degrees F. (15 C.) and all danger of frost has passed. Cucumbers thrive in temps of 70 F. (21 C.) during the day and above 60 F. (15 C.) at night.

If you sow your seeds indoors, start them 2-4 weeks prior to the last frost date for your area in soilless potting medium. Be sure to harden the seedlings off before transplanting them.

Space the plants 12-24 inches apart in rows 5-6 feet apart for slicing cukes. For pickling cucumbers, space 8-12 inches apart in rows 3-6 feet apart. If direct sowing, place 2-3 seeds per hill and then thin out the weakest. Water deeply and regularly and fertilize.

If you are growing a vining type of cuke, be sure to provide some type of support.

Can You Eat Prickly Cucumbers?

Spines on cucumbers aren’t deadly, but they would be terribly uncomfortable to eat. The good news is that you can always peel a cucumber if the cucumber prickles are on the large side.

Most prickly cucumber fruit is just that, covered with minor hairy prickles. For these, a good washing will probably remove the prickles. If they won’t come off right away, use a veggie brush to remove them.

Oh, and this is interesting. I just read that the pristine, smooth cukes we are used to purchasing at the supermarket have spines. They are removed prior to selling to the consumer! Who knew? It should also be noted that some varieties today are bred to be spineless.

Prickly Cucumbers – A Problem, or Perfectly Normal?

An Inherited Trait

Not all cucumber prickles are alike. Just as they inherit size, shape, color and flavor, every cuke variety inherits its prickles. They’re Mother Nature’s way of protecting the plants from insects or hungry animals. Many modern cukes are bred for minimal prickling; English hothouse cukes have almost none. Most picking cukes, however, are naturally covered with white or black spines.

Handling Prickly Cukes

If your cukes are no more prickly than kiwi fruit, pick and process them bare-handed. Handling spiny cukes is more of a challenge. Approach them with a sturdy pair of gardening gloves that you keep on until you’ve safely transported them to the kitchen.

Scraping Prickly Cukes

Scraping the prickles from slicing cukes rarely involves more than holding them under running water and rubbing them clean with your bare hands. Pickling cuke spines can be a bit more stubborn. To avoid painfully stuck fingers, wrap the cuke in a kitchen towel and rub it vigorously. Then shake the towel’s contents into your disposal or trash.

Expert gardener’s tip: In case you were wondering, those smooth-skinned, gleaming produce-department cukes all undergo scraping (followed by a wax job) before going on public display.

Smooth-Skinned Cukes

If you’d prefer to scrap the scraping, planting these nearly smooth-skinned cuke cultivars is the way to go:

  • ‘Tsuyataro’ is a mildew-resistant cultivar and best-seller in Japan. Start harvesting its crisp, burpless 8-inch slicing cukes in about 57 days.
  • ‘La Diva,’ made for trellising. The 6-foot vine yields loads of cigar-sized cukes from mid-summer into mid-fall. They’re juicy, crisp and great for pickling or slicing.
  • ‘Amiga,’ bred to resist cucumber mosaic virus, papaya ringspot virus and powdery mildew. Its deep-green, flavorful snack-sized cukes are ready for picking in 55 days.

Expert gardener’s tip: All cucumber cultivars bred for smooth, thin skins require gentle handling during harvesting. Otherwise, they may scratch and scar.

They’re called spines or warts. Cucumbers “The second type is grown in gardens. Some kinds have black spines while others have white spines protruding from warts when the fruit is young. The white-spined varieties are more popular. The second type matures in 55 to 60 days and the fruits may be used for pickling or slicing. The third type is also grown outside; they are the pickling varieties, which (with the exception of Gherkin, which belongs in this group) may also be used for salads. The Gherkin, C.anguria, also commonly known as Gooseberry Gourd and Bur Gourd, is the true old-time Gherkin, but has been replaced by young Cucumber imposters. The long vines are covered with deeply 3- lobed leaves that distinguish the plants from Melons and Cucumbers. They produce fruits, 2 inches long, that are covered with soft spines and are valuable only for pickles.” http://www.botany.com/cucumis.html The West India gherkin is Cucu-inis Angur-ia, a plant with small, slender vines, and very abundant small ellipsoid green fruit covered with warts and spines. It is used for pickling. http://88.1911encyclopedia.org/C/CU/CUCUMBER.htm Search strategy: cucumber botany

Cucumbers are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. They are nearly 95% water! Most slicing cucumbers range between 6 and 10 inches long, while pickling cucumbers are between 3 and 5 inches long. Their outer skin can range from dark to pale green, and even whitish. The inner flesh is pale green- white and contains seeds in the center. The seeds are surrounded in a jelly-like substance that becomes more fluid as the cucumber ages. The outer skin is edible, but sometimes peeled for taste or texture.

Best Storage Practices:

Store cucumbers in a warmer part of the refrigerator between 45-60 degrees F. Cucumbers will last 7-10 days. Always wash before serving.

Fun Ways to Eat and Cook:

Cucumbers can be eaten raw or pickled. Raw cucumbers are great for topping salads, dipping, or making cold soup. Proper pickling is long process, but quick pickles can be made overnight by storing sliced cucumber in oil, vinegar and salt.

Selecting Cucumbers:

Look for cucumbers with no damage, bruising, or discoloration. Bumps can be expected. Bruises and spots, however, should be avoided. Only choose firm cucumbers.

Why it’s Good to Eat:

  • Good source of various vitamins and minerals
  • Good source of dietary fiber
  • Refreshing, hydrating vegetable

When it’s in Season:

Cucumbers thrive best in warm temperatures and are grown in North Carolina from Spring until Fall. Cucumbers are often at their most productive during the summer.

How it’s Harvested:

Cucumbers actually grow on large vines that can produce dozens of cucumbers and spread dozens of feet from the roots. Vines can either be trellised or allowed to spread on the ground. Cucumbers grow under big, prickly leaves, and can be cut or pulled from the vine.


Mediterranean Salad – Wash and dice cucumbers, along with tomatoes and sweet onion. Toss with salt, pepper, and oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Allow flavors to combine in the fridge over night. Serve cold and garnish with feta cheese. Enjoy!

Pickles. You either hate them or love them. I can see a case for either side. Because if you don’t like to eat anything green, this condiment/meal/side dish is about as ugly as green can get. Not to mention that some pickle versions have bumps and I can’t imagine that as a selling point to anyone skeptical of the pickle. On the other hand, if you’re a green veggie lover, pickles are the best! Whichever camp you belong to, brace yourself because National Pickle Day is on Monday, November 14, 2016.

The very first Pickle Day was celebrated in NYC in 2001 according to NationalDayCalendar.com. Research for the site could not confirm who created National Pickle Day or mention why it was celebrated but I love how it lists all the common types of pickles that are out there: “… Dill, Gherkin, Cornichon, Brined, Kosher Dill, Polish, Hungarian, Lime, Bread and Butter, Swedish and Danish, or Kool-Aid Pickle.” Choose your fave or try a new one and crunch away.

I was the kid who would come home from school and roll pickles into single sliced, plastic wrap removed, American cheese for my afternoon snack. It was like a “go to” combo for me – sort of like peanut butter and jelly or mac and cheese. I would eat around five pickle wraps in one sitting because the combo was one of my favorite kid-friendly hors d’oeuvres. Recently, I was comforted to learn that my sister-in-law craved the same pickle wraps when she was pregnant confirming the old wives’ tale that many pregnant women crave pickles. However, I’m not sure she used the same high-quality cheese I used when I was a kid.

For the longest time I couldn’t understand why, when I brought home a jar of pickles, my hub would say he didn’t like that “kind”. I had no idea there were different kinds of brines and processes. I thought the only difference was the shape of the pickle slices and the brand name. I knew that the spear-shaped slices obviously served the purpose of being a side dish to the sandwiches and burgers while the round shaped slices were to be served in or on the sandwiches and burgers. Nowadays, they have sandwich sliced pickles in a hybrid shape that is long like the spears, but thinly sliced and resembles a rectangle for maximum coverage in a sandwich. The process and the brine make a huge difference so if you’re picky, you may love one type of pickle and not another. My hub prefers the Bread and Butter pickles for his sandwiches. Mystery solved.

Every summer I have visions of growing my own veggies and fruit and then mastering the technique of jarring/canning them. And at the end of every summer, I decide that I’ll wait until next year because its a labor intensive event and I’ll have more time next summer (ha!). It’s pretty intimidating to cook your home grown produce and on top of it, learn about the preserving process. But since National Pickle Day is coming up, I will buy some cucumbers from a store and make some pickles to give as thoughtful pinches to my fellow pickle eaters. I went onto Pinterest and found two no-cook recipes that they refer to it as refrigerator recipes: Bread and Butter Pickle Recipe and Easy Dill Recipe.

Trader Joe’s Pickle Popcorn is a wonderful snack and for $1.99 it makes a great thoughtful pinch for a pickle person in your life without any time spent in the kitchen. For a quick, easy meal I served these dill chips with the crockpot Italian Beef sandwiches after the game on Sunday.

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