Cucumbers are said to have originated in India, brought to China 2,000 years ago, and then to Europe via Greece. Explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Hernando de Soto brought cucumbers to Haiti, America, and South America.
Today, cucumbers are principally grown for two crops: fresh (slicing) and pickles (pickling). Fresh production is led by Florida and Georgia, though the United States imports a substantial amount from Mexico, with lesser quantities from Canada, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Although greenhouse-growing is on the rise, only a fraction of the nation’s production comes from domestic greenhouses, though a healthy portion of imported cucumbers are grown in greenhouses.
Michigan tops the list for pickling cucumbers, followed by Florida.
References: PennState Extension, USDA Economic Research Service.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Cucumbers are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes gourds, pumpkin, watermelon, and squash. There are hundreds of varieties, but the most common are the garden cucumber and English cucumber, along with specialty varieties such as Armenian and Asian cucumbers, and lemon cucumber.
Garden cucumbers are dark green, thick and juicy, and usually waxed to keep moisture in. English cucumbers are longer and thinner with a lighter flavor and usually sold wrapped in plastic to preserve freshness and reduce moisture loss.
For pickles, ‘burpless’ cucumbers are recommended, varieties with less bitterness that decrease burping. Some say, however, this is simply a marketing term for the Oriental trellis cucumber.
References: Cucurbit Breeding Project, North Carolina State University, PennState Extension.
PESTS & DISEASE
Cucumbers are susceptible to many pests and diseases. Cold and wet soil, residual herbicide, and fungi-caused damping-off can impact crops. In addition, powdery mildews, causing white spots, gray mold from too much moisture, and other insects such as white fly, two-spotted mites, vegetable leaf miner, cabbage looper, wireworm, squashbug, aphids and pickleworm can damage stands. Resistant seeds with names like Bristol, Darlington, Leopard, Mongoose, and Tasty Jade can mitigate pests and diseases in some cases. Proper soil, plastic mulch, crop rotation, and using chlorine in wash and handling water can also minimize impact.
Another serious risk for cucumbers is crooking, where the mature fruit has severe curvature. This can occur when leaves block straight growth, and in some cases, from insects feeding on one side of the young cucumbers. A one-inch curve per 12 inches in length is the crooking limit for first-grade fruit.
References: North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, University of California, Davis.