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Do Cucumbers Continue To Ripen Off The Vine

Cucumbers are great at increasing and fruiting throughout their growing season, so much so that you might wonder what to do with all of the cucumbers your plant is producing. Some can be picked small to turn into cornichons; others picked at peak ripeness to enjoy in a garden salad for lunch. Maybe you are considering picking some of your cucumbers just shy of perfection to ripen a bit slower on your countertop or windowsill than they would on the vine. But do cucumbers continue to ripen off the vine?

No, cucumbers, unlike tomatoes, do not continue to ripen off the vine. This does not mean that they are not sensitive to ethylene, the ripening hormone commonly emitted by bananas and stone fruits. Still, instead of ripening, they will yellow and deteriorate the fruit if stored near ethylene producers. 

Continue reading to learn more about how to pick the perfect cucumber and some issues you might encounter when growing your own. 

How do I know when my cucumbers are ready to pick?

Since you can’t ripen cucumbers off the vine, you might feel the pressure to pick your cucumbers at peak ripeness and perfection, but you’re not sure what to look for. Reasonable indications of a ready-to-harvest cucumber are in the firmness and color. Cucumbers can be picked when small and still be flavorful, so size isn’t necessarily the only good indication of a cucumber that is ready to be picked. However, the average cucumber is picked when it reaches between 5 and 8 inches in length. 

Cucumbers thrive in warm conditions during the spring and summer months, with fruiting tapering off around July in warmer climates. This is a short window for a single plant to produce up to 5 pounds of cucumbers, so you will have to be swift when picking them and crafty when considering how to store or off-load your harvest. 

The best way to tell when to harvest is by keeping track of the days to harvest information found on the seed packet used, if applicable, along with visual and tangible indicators. Typically this can range from 90-110 days if grown by seed or 50-70 days if an established seedling is planted. Conditions that can affect your fruit ripening include weather, water, and nutrition, so maintain a good relationship with your plant. Ensure you are providing enough water when necessary, a good location for your cucumbers to receive bright light for at least 5 hours a day, and the right balance of nutrients to ensure healthy root growth and flower and fruit production. 

If you do not have the days to harvest information from your cucumber seeds, rely on your senses: visually, a cucumber that is ready to harvest is medium to dark green, and to the touch, it is firm with the slightest give to it. Any spongy, soft cucumbers are overripe and should be avoided. White cucumbers are severely malnourished or plagued with a mold or disease and should be avoided. 

Here is a comprehensive link on growing cucumbers from seeds or seedlings, and information on how to keep your plant healthy through harvest:

Can you pick a cucumber too early?

Cucumbers are often immature when picked to avoid the unpleasant hardening of the seeds when a cucumber grows larger. While cucumbers can be picked at whatever size the gardener prefers, they will not continue to ripen off the vine. So yes, you can pick a cucumber too early if it is not at your preferred ripeness. 

An immature, unripe cucumber can be detected by its firmness, color, and size, depending on what type of cucumber you are growing. Cucumbers grown for gherkins are small and should be picked at about 3 inches long when relatively petite. More “standard” cucumbers are commonly picked between 5 and 8 inches long. The larger the fruit gets, the less pleasant it gets, with more bitter notes being expressed as well as the loss of a nice “crisp” texture only to be replaced with a spongy, unsatisfying bite. 

While everyone has their preference, it is generally accepted that cucumbers are best when still firm but not hard like winter squash. The window between an unripe cucumber and an overripe cucumber is small, so it is best to get them off the vine once they are to your liking. 

If the yield is too large and you are concerned about what to do with the excess before they go bad, try pickling. This is a quick and easy method to extend the life of your cucumbers and turn them into something completely different. There are endless flavors, such as a classic dill pickle or a spicy departure from the norm using chiles and garlic. 

How do you fix yellow cucumbers? 

Cucumbers, like any plant, can yellow for many different reasons. A yellow, soft cucumber is not as tasty as a crisp, green cucumber. Below are common causes for cucumbers yellowing with some simple solutions. 

Common causes to yellowing fruitExplanationSolution
OverwateringOverwatering will cause a fruit to swell, as well as wash away the nutrients from the soil which give your cucumber color and flavor. Overwatering and a lack of nutrients often show the similar symptoms in the fruit of the plant.

Overwatering can be caught early once symptoms of plump, yellowing fruits are showing. Pick off these fruits to encourage your plant to produce more, which you can more closely monitor your watering habits. Cucumbers usually prefer a couple of deep waterings a week, dependent on the temperature and if they are grown indoors or outdoors.

Over-ripeOverripe cucumbers are yellow because the green pigment, chlorophyll, which is degraded during the process of ripening.To prevent overly-ripe cucumbers, pick your cucumbers when they are still firm and bright, deep green.
Nutrient deficientPoor fruit production and yellowing in fruits or leaves are indications your plant is likely deficient in potassium, phosphorus, and/or micronutrientsNutrient deprived plants can be revived with a fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium and a moderate amount of nitrogen. Nitrogen promotes leaf growth, which takes away energy from your plant producing fruits. Potassium helps with energy and root production in plants, and phosphorus aids in fruit, flower, and seed growth. If you notice small fruits or weak stems, these are sure signs of your plant being deficient in one or more important nutrients.
These are the most common reasons you will see yellowing in your cucumbers, or poor cucumber production.

Other issues that can affect your plant are pests or diseases, which can be treated naturally or with chemical pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. However, those should be the last resource used. Chemicals applied to fruiting plants can greatly affect your local pollinators, ultimately affecting your plant’s fruit production since the two work symbiotically. 

Final Thoughts

While you don’t have the convenience of picking an unripe cucumber and letting it ripen on your counter until you are ready to use it, the joy of a perfectly picked cucumber can greatly impact your meal or snack. 

It is worth it to get in tune with your cucumber plant, or at the very least know how to pick out a good cucumber at a supermarket. Remember to check for color and firmness to ensure quality. Size can vary, especially if you get your cucumbers after they’re harvested, and firmness is the best metric. 

With some inevitable trial and error, you will be able to learn the signs of a good cucumber and reliably harvest your plant when the cucumber is just to your liking, destroying the urge to harvest early and ripen later. 

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