If you have ever grown cucumbers I can bet you have been unlucky enough to bite into the awfulness of one gone bitter. I have planted my cucumbers in succession this year. The first bunch is thriving – vigorous, green vines setting lots of fruit. I harvested the first two cucumbers earlier in the week and sliced one up as soon as I got it in the kitchen only to immediately spit it right out. There is something especially horrible about a bitter cucumber. For me I think it has to do with the stark contrast between that and a good cucumber’s mild flavor. It is always a bummer to have a bitter one, just like losing any other fruit or vegetable at any stage of the growing trajectory.
I have had bitter cucumbers before. They had always been born on plants that looked less than beautiful, so I chalked it up to poor soil, uneven watering, etc. But the cucumber from earlier in the week came from that thriving vine. I began to despair, thinking I might be headed for a whole slew of bitterness. I did a quick Internet search and found out that no one really knows why some cucumbers are bitter. This article was packed full of useful info on the topic. To summarize:
What causes bitterness
- Bitterness is caused by cucurbitacin B and cucurbitacin C., naturally occurring compounds found in all the curcurbitacins.
- These compounds exist in all parts of the plant (stem, leaves, roots) and only occasionally make it into the cucumber fruit.
- Bitterness could be caused by uneven watering.
- Bitterness could be caused by cool weather – as some gardeners find that only the fruit of the early season turns bitter.
- Some varieties may be more prone to bitterness than others. (I think this may be the case with mine)
If you have bitter cucumbers:
- Not all is lost
- The bitterness usually resides on the end closest to the stem, in the skin, and in the outer most layers of flesh.
- Peel the skin and a couple of layers of flesh with a potato peeler to remove the bitter parts.
- Cut the end off closest to the stem.
I tried this and it worked! I successfully removed the putrid taste from my bitter cucumbers. What is even better, the two I harvested later in the week were not bitter at all! No, not all hope is lost. I also have my first ever Persian cucumbers setting fruit – not at all bitter.
In other garden news, I am growing corn for the first time in a few years. I think I tried it two or three years ago, but was not so successful. This year the backyard corn patch (is that what you call it?) is doing great. I had a lot of extra room at the community garden plot, and a lot of left over seeds, so I planted two rows there. On the same day that I harvested my bitter cucumbers I saw the corn seedlings just making their way to the sunshine. On the day that I harvest the next two cucumbers every single corn seedling was gone! Gone! At first I thought I had failed to give them enough water, but there was no sign of withered anything anywhere. Then I noticed that at just about the spacing the seeds were placed there was a little depression in the soil, round divots. Something came in the night (or early morning) and pulled them out, leaving a small depression in its wake. I can’t imagine that a human would want a plant so small, so I am placing my bets on a bandit in the wild animal kingdom…a rabbit, perhaps, that pulled the tiny plants right out of the loose soil as it nibbled away.
Ah, the perils of the gardener. Bitterness and bandits.
But, again, I will not be foiled. I still have more seeds, so will plant again and protect those little seedlings against the “night.”
What has you experience been with bitter cucumbers? Bandits? Any insights?