Harvesting and Storing Cucumbers
Growing cucumbers is an easy and delicious pursuit. Well cared for plants will produce an abundant amount of fruit over a period of several months. In fact, it may be so abundant that you won’t know what to do with all of them. Refrigerating cucumbers works for a time if you clean and dry them and seal them in plastic, but even that won’t keep them forever. As you harvest your cucumbers, the best way to store them for long periods is to make them into pickles.
Depending on what you plan on doing with your cucumbers, the harvesting will differ. For the vigorous salad type cucumber, you should let them get at least 6 or 7 inches long before you clip them from the vine. If they get much larger, they will lose much of their flavor and become chewy. If they receive too much sun, they may become bitter. Pickling cucumbers, on the other hand, should be picked when they are still relatively small--4 or 5 inches tops. If you want to make baby dills, you should harvest the cucumbers when they are an inch or less in diameter and just 2 to 4 inches long. Overly mature cucumbers should not be used for storing. Try making cucumber salad with these.
As mentioned, you can store cucumbers cut fresh from the vine in the refrigerator, but the best way to ensure your cucumbers last a long time is to pickle them. Pickling is a process of sealing cucumbers in glass jars with a vinegar based brine. In order to pickle your cucumbers, need a few items. You will need several glass sealing jars (enough to hold however many cucumbers you have) with rims and new lids. You will also need a pot deep enough to cover a quart jar with an inch to spare. A special pair of tongs designed to fish very hot jars out of simmering water helps too.
There are many different recipes for pickling cucumbers. The main ingredients in the brine are vinegar, water and salt. Whether you decide to make sweet pickles or dill pickles will determine the other ingredients. Fresh dill, garlic cloves, hot peppers, peppercorns, onion slices and various spices are just a few of the possibilities. It is easy to find a pickling recipe online. Here's one easy recipe :
- 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar
- ¼ cup salt for every 12 cups of liquid
- About 25 pickling cucumbers per 8 quart jars
- Fresh dill
- Garlic cloves
- Onion slices
- Black peppercorns
Bring the brine to a boil. Cut the cucumbers into slices, stuff them into the sterilized quart jars with a few garlic cloves, onion slices and stalks and heads of dill. Pouring the boiling brine over them. Don’t forget a small handful of peppercorns in each jar.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson, "Cucumbers can be lacto fermented using salt instead of vinegar. This process allows cucumbers to retain many of their nutrients and is useful for long term storage."
There are many different recipes for pickling cucumbers. As long as you make the brine with plenty of vinegar and salt and seal the jars properly, there is no wrong recipe. Whatever tastes good and works for you is the right way.