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How to grow, harvest and store cucumbers and summer squash

In the Garden

Cucumbers and summer squash can be canned or processed for eating out of season, but they are best when eaten fresh. New cultivars have been developed to improve both disease resistance and the eating experience. Here are some other pointers besides cultivar selection that will improve your cucumber and summer squash eating experience.

Growing

Since cucumbers and squash are already in the garden, here are some growing tips as we finish out the season.

A challenge for cucumbers right now is high temperatures. Many cultivars will abort female flowers when day and night temperatures are high. This usually happens because pollen quality is poor at high temperatures, so pollination does not take place. The best you can do is to cover them with a 20% shade cloth. A heavier shade will slow growth and reduce yields.

High temperatures don’t seem to have as much effect on summer squash pollination.

If you have cucumber or squash fruit that are misshapen, such as the flower end being pointy, it is another indication of poor pollination. This occurs frequently toward the end of the growing season.

Remember that these plants are very tender and will express chilling damage with temperatures below 42F and the slightest frost will kill the leaves or the plants. So, if you are still trying to harvest cucumbers and summer squash in the fall, take measures to protect them.

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Straight neck squash, harvest when skin is still tender and blossom has just dried. | Ron Patterson, EastIdahoNews.com

Harvesting

Pickling cucumbers will reach a harvestable size about 4 – 5 days after pollination. This mostly depends on how large you want your pickles.

Harvest size of slicing cucumbers depends on the cultivar. For immediate, fresh eating they can be harvested at any small size. If they will be stored in a refrigerator for a few days, they should be harvested at just the point where the skin has filled out and the cucumber is at the standard market size for the cultivar. This should be done before the seeds start to mature.

Summer squash may catch you by surprise. If you don’t harvest them regularly you may find ”baseball bats” growing on your squash plants. Older fruit has a tough skin, whereas the fruit of a small fresh squash will be tender and fine for eating. The large fruits are fine for processing and zucchini bread, but fresh eating is much better when the fruit is picked just as the blossom turns dry.

Take care when harvesting that you don’t damage the vine. Do not pull the fruit straight out or up as this may break the vine or pull up the plant.

  • For cucumbers it is better to use a twisting motion, scissors/pruners, or I like to use my thumb to separate the pedicel (blossom stem) from the fruit as I twist the fruit down.
  • With summer squash the twisting motion may break the fruit—I like to use a knife to cut the pedicel.

Short-term storage

For the highest quality, get cucumbers and squash out of the field and to a refrigerator as quickly as possible. Quality is also best if they are pickled or eaten within 24 hours of harvest.

Just like the plant, the fruit can be damaged if exposed to temperatures below 42F. Refrigerator temperatures are usually set around 38F, which will cause chill pits on the fruit within a couple of days. The best storage for cucumbers is 45 – 55F with high humidity. They should last 10 – 14 days under those conditions.

Enjoy your cucumbers and summer squash.

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Cucumber harvest size depends on the cultivar. | Ron Patterson, EastIdahoNews.com
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