written by: Rip Winkel – Horticulture Agent, Cottonwood Extension District
One of the most satisfying summertime pleasures one can have is to plant, water and weed a vegetable garden. The pièce de résistance, however, is after waiting so long in anticipation, to harvest and enjoy the great flavors in the various vegetables “ripened on the vine”, like those found in fresh, ripe cucumbers.
What can be disappointing is when you find that the perfectly sized, blemish free cucumber you just picked turned out to have a rancid, bitter taste instead of being sweet. What went wrong?
That bitter taste often found in cucumbers is actually the result of stress caused by a number of factors. These factors can be heredity (genetic), moisture (lack thereof), temperature (excessive), soil characteristics, or from disease. Most often this problem occurs during the hotter days of summer or later in the growing season.
There happens to be two compounds, cucurbitacins B and C, that are the cause for this bitter taste. Though often only the stem end is affected, at times the entire fruit is bitter. Also, most of the bitter taste is found in and just under the skin. Removing the stem end and the skin can often help salvage bitter fruit.
As opposed to some thinking, bitter tasting cucumbers are not the result of this fruit cross-pollinating with squash or melons. These plants cannot cross-pollinate with one another. Often the newer varieties are less likely to become bitter than older ones. Proper cultural care is also often helpful.
As much as possible, try to ensure that the plants have the following:
Well-drained soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5. This may be hard for many as there are areas where the pH can be 8.0 or even higher. If it is high, amending the soil with Sulphur can help lower pH. Also, plenty of organic matter can help.
Mulch; a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch helps conserve moisture and keeps roots cool during hot, dry weather.
Be sure to provide adequate irrigation, especially during the fruiting season.
Disease and insect control.