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We have a friend who occasionally brings us vegetable plants, as she has her own garden/farm thing where she cultivates plants to sell to restaurants. This time around, she brought us some tiny red and yellow tomatoes as well as some cucumbers. The tomatoes were easy to work with, the cucumbers less so. We're currently at the point where we're trying to figure out when it's time to pick them. Unlike store-bought plants we've dealt with in the past, our friend did not leave us any seed cards or other kind of information that could help us.

The problem is that they're particularly prickly. The largest one, on the left, is probably ready by size alone. The picture on the right is one of several smaller ones. You can probably see a fair amount of spines, mostly near the bottom, but the entire fruits are positively covered in shiny barbs. It's not limited to the fruits themselves, though. The stalks and the leaves of the plant are also covered in coarse hairs that can even puncture our gardening gloves. If there was such thing as a cactus cucumber these may very well be it, haha, but I've actually heard of spiny cucumbers for a long time. Mom says these are worse than dealing with rosebushes.

A quick search online has shown up mostly ways of checking if a cucumber is ready to pick is by the firmness of grasp. This is decidedly not an option as I enjoy my hands being relatively smooth and hole-free, and thicker gloves mean I won't even be able to feel the fruit. Resources I've found on dealing with spiny cucumbers all seem to be about how to cook and peel them, not how to harvest them off the plant in the first place. So I ask, how might I ascertain that a cucumber is ready if it is too spiny to feel? With touch out of the question (lest there's a means to touch them without needle death), what means can we use to check on them and decide to snip them off the plant for eventual cookery?

Click on pictures for larger view.

Probably ready by size alone One of several small ones

  • For scale, how large is the cuc in the first picture? – wax eagle Aug 6 '13 at 18:46
  • @waxeagle The one in the first picture is about 14 inches long. The one in the second picture that you didn't ask but I measured anyway is about 6 inches long, but it's extremely thin unlike the huge one. Also tape measurers snapping on your hand actually hurt more than cucumber spines, ow. – Grace Note Aug 6 '13 at 19:12
  • Ow. I'd pick the first and see how it tastes. It might be a bit bitter being that long (but these look disposed to being quite small). I'd let the other one get a bit plumper before you pull it and see how it tastes. There's likely to be a bit of trial and error here. – wax eagle Aug 6 '13 at 19:13
  • @waxeagle Just as a matter of triva, I read that bitterness of a cucumber is associated with stress levels of the plant and there are some varieties that don't produce the compound necessary for bitterness organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/cucumbers?page=0,1 – Randy Aug 6 '13 at 19:59
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A couple of things to look for other than the feel (they should be firm if you can find a spot to squeeze them where they aren't too prickly). Some amount of spines are normal on all cucumbers, but this one looks especially spiny.

  • Color: they should be medium to dark green. this depends on the cultivar though, some of them will be different colors. from the looks of it, the medium to dark green color is a good test here.

  • Length: This is sort of up to preference, the article I linked above suggests 5-6" but some folks let them grow a lot longer (like 10-12"), they will continue to grow longer if you do not pick them. At this point the one in the first photo should be plenty ready to pick and use (it's already on the longer side).

Overall a combination of these three methods (squeeze, if you can find a good spot, the color, and the length) should give you a good idea of when to pick it. But I think if you can't manage to squeeze it relying on color and size should be a pretty good indicator.

  • So, it's been 10 days since then. That small one? It grew to an almost-19-inch monstrosity. And yet, they still taste quite good. We're basically going off of a color and a circumference (based on your comment) basis at this point since they're hitting the long lengths well before they look the right color. Though we're all curious in this house to see how this particularly S-shaped one is going to grow. Thanks for the advice! – Grace Note Aug 16 '13 at 18:57

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