Some of you have probably experienced the problem that I am going to cover today, so pay attention to where you select your garden area next year.
Crisp, crunchy cucumbers straight out of the garden are delicious — except when they're bitter. What's up with that?
If you've ever bitten into a cucumber and noticed an odd bitter taste, you're tasting cucurbitacin — a natural organic compound found in the leaves, stems, and roots of cucumbers.
Cucurbitacin can spread to the fruit of the cucumber plant, and is typically more pronounced in the stem end rather than the blossom end. It's also more noticeable in the peel and in the light green area just under the peel.
Lack of water, spacing, and fertilizing affect of the amount of cucurbitacin in your cucumber, and almost any common variety of cucumbers will have some degree of bitterness.
Cucurbitacin is found mainly in the vegetative parts of the plant such as leaves, stems and roots. On occasion and to a lesser degree, it spreads to the fruit. It doesn’t accumulate evenly within each cucumber, however, and can vary in concentration from one fruit to another.
When harvesting slicing cucumbers, take note: The bitter compound is likely to be more concentrated in the stem end than in the blossom end of the cucumber. It is also more prevalent in the peel and in the light green area just beneath the peel – and less likely to be found in the deeper interior of the fruit.
Vegetable scientists have several explanations about why some cucumbers become more bitter than others. Cucumbers picked from vines growing under some type of stress, such as lack of water, are often somewhat bitter. Misshapen fruits are more likely to be bitter than are the well-shaped fruits. More complaints come about bitter cucumbers grown during cool periods than during warm times. Fertilizers, plant spacing and irrigation frequency may also affect bitterness.
James M. Stephens, vegetable crops professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, came up with a method of peeling a cucumber to avoid serving bitter-tasting cucumbers.
Start peeling at the blossom end of the fruit. Slice away one strip of the green peel toward the stem end and stop about one inch from the stem. Then wash off the knife blade and repeat peeling from blossom to stem end until the fruit is peeled. Rinse the knife again and cut up the cucumber as needed.
Bitterness seems to vary with the type of cucumber grown. But you can expect some degree of bitterness from time to time in most any variety of cucumber commonly grown, Myers said.
So, this gives you something to think about when you are sitting around the old campfire this winter and planning your garden. You need to find a place where you can get some water to make them grow, although if you use too much water it seems to cause the cucmbers to have a shorter shelf life, resulting in swiveled cucumbers along with a bland taste as you find in the hydroponically grown cucumbers at times. Plan for a way to catch the rain water running off your roof to help irrigate your garden. The Master Gardeners usually have an annual program that teaches how to construct a rain barrel. If you have the Internet, you can go on-line and find various instructions on doing this also.
For those of you that might be interested in becoming a Master Gardener, there will be a new Master Gardener class making up shortly, so watch for info here as well as other places for the dates, costs, and sign up times.
Until next time, "Just let it grow.”