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Don't let bitter cucumbers ruin garden harvest

By Bob Westerfield College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

By Robert R. Westerfield University of Georgia

Few things in the garden are more heartbreaking than taking the time and effort to cultivate the soil, plant seed, fertilize, water and nurture your plants, only to have your harvest taste awful.

This is often the case with cucumbers. Sometimes they can taste downright bitter. The good news is that this is preventable. Following a few simple tips can make sure you get the great-tasting cukes your labors deserve.

The bitter taste that sometimes happens comes from one of three things, or a combination of the three. Here are some tips to help you avoid all of them.

The first is to harvest cucumbers before they reach full maturity. Leaving them on the vine too long, trying to get extra long fruit, can lead to disappointing taste. Cucumbers can grow fast once they start producing, so be sure to plant only as much as you can keep up with, to keep the harvest young.

Moisture control is the second tip for growing salad-quality cucumbers. Irrigation or rain is critical, especially in the last week or so before the harvest. Failing to provide enough water can definitely lead to poor-tasting cucumbers.

The best way to water is with a drip system, irrigation tape or soaker hoses. Provide about 1 inch to 1.5 inches of water per week. Even more water near harvest time will help. Overhead watering is OK. But it's the least efficient method, and it may lead to foliar diseases.

Third, manage the soil fertility. This means adjusting the pH (alkalinity or acidity) of the soil correctly and providing proper nutrition.

Submitting a soil sample to your University of Georgia Cooperative Extension county agent's office is the most precise way to do this. There's no way to guess at the pH without the soil test.

The test will also provide details of what and how much fertilizer to apply. Proper nutritional management will lead to healthier plants and help eliminate the fertility problems that can cause a bitter taste.

By following these tips, you should be able to grow all the great-tasting cucumbers you need for your salads and pickle jars.

(Bob Westerfield is the Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)