The anticipation of that first bite as the new cucumbers begin to develop. Followed by the huge disappointment and surprise of a disgustingly bitter taste. Judging by some of the customer feedback received lately I’m not the only one to have ditched my long-awaited yet bitter cucumbers on the compost heap.
Like squash and melons cucumbers belong to the Cucurbit family. As the name would suggest, these plants produce the chemical cucurbitacin. Normally confined to the leaves and stems, cucurbitacins can work themselves into the fruit. And the result is pretty nasty – a strong bitter taste!
What’s Gone Wrong?
As always there is no straightforward answer. I’m told that’s what makes gardening so much fun! Or maybe it’s the challenge that keeps us going, year after year.
Stress is likely to be the main cause. So, look to the growing conditions:
– Has the plant been overwatered?
– Has the plant been underwatered and left to dry out and then flooded?
– Is the compost good quality and has the plant been fed?
– Has the plant been too hot?
– Has the weather been too cold, or, has it fluctuated with hot days and cold nights?
Another cause of bitter cucumbers is the presence of male flowers. The females do very well on their own (sound familiar?). So, any male flowers need to be swiftly removed. And how do you tell the difference? The male flower will just have a long stem whereas with the female a fruit will be forming behind the flower.
How to Prevent Bitter Fruit
The simple answer is to remove all stress from the plant, thus providing the very best growing conditions. And these are:
1) Watering regularly. Little and often is best.
2) Keeping the atmosphere humid. Damping down the greenhouse floor with a hose pipe will help as will misting the plant.
3) Feeding the plant as soon as flowers form. Tomato feed is OK but for the best results select a feed that is high in nitrogen.
4) Maintaining an even temperature.
Growing an all female variety, such as F1 Bella, will help guard against bitter fruits but the growing conditions do still need to be right. And if you like growing the older varieties then just remember to nip out those male flowers. Trouble makers, the lot of them. 😊
The cucurbitacins will be mainly in the skin so peeling the fruits will make them edible. The downside to this being that most of the healthy stuff is of course in the skin.
Another, and probably better, solution is to slice off both ends. Now rub the removed end against the exposed flesh and keep rubbing until white foam appears. Keep going until the foaming stops and then do the same at the other end. Give the cucumber a quick wash and enjoy. The bitterness has been rubbed away.
So, step away from the compost heap with those bitter cucumbers and get slicing and rubbing. I’ve tried it – it works!