- The top three countries that imported cucumbers to the United States in 2013 were Mexico (1,144,458,000 Ibs), Canada (215,028,000 lbs), and Honduras (65,244,000 lbs).
- In 2012, the top cucumber-producing states, as reported by the United States Department of Agriculture, were Georgia and Florida, with 283.5 and 280.8 million pounds, respectively.
- There are three growing seasons in South Florida for field planted cucumbers; the fall season is from September to October, the winter season is from November to December, and the spring season is from January to March.
- In the United States, from 1998 to 2013, there were ten reported outbreaks associated with cucumbers, and 483 people fell ill. The pathogens implicated in these outbreaks were enteropathogenic coli, norovirus genogroup I and II,and Salmonella Saintpaul.
The cucumber plant (Cucumis sativus) belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, a part of the Cucumis genus. The Cucumis genus contains nearly 40 species, such as the cantaloupe (C. melo), and watermelon (Citrullus vulgaris). The cucumber has many common names including pepino, cetriolo, gherkin, gurke, krastavac, concombre, hunggua, kiukaba, khira, kiukamupa, and kukamba.
Cucumis sativus is a frost-sensitive annual with coarse (large, bold, and rough) leaves and a creeping vine that can reach upwards of six feet in length. The spiraling, hairy vine and tendrils that originate from the axil, allow the plant to readily climb supporting structures. Hairy, three to five-lobed leaves, with a triangular shape that are 10 – 40 cm in size, are each supported on a petiole and provide a canopy to cover the flowers and fruit. The overall root system is generally shallow (usually penetrates top 30 cm of soil) with lateral roots extending further than the vine; however, a tap root can reach one meter deep.
The cucumber plant produces three types of rough, yellow flowers, including a male or staminate flower, a female or pistillate flower, and a hermaphrodite flower with both male and female structures. The pistillate flower can be recognized by its thin pedicles; it also has a large ovary (immature fruit) at its base. The ovary has three chambers and is connected to short, thick stigma lobes. The staminate flower grows in clusters, and each flower is on a slender stem containing three stamens. Hermaphroditic flowers are able to produce round fruits. Regardless of the sex, the flowers are yellow with wrinkled petals.
Cucumber plants are naturally monoecious, meaning there are separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Gynoecious predominately produce female flowers, however, they will produce male flowers under conditions that include longer days, high temperatures, and light intense days. The seeds of both monoecious and gynoecious maybe mixed for planting in the same area. Pollen is transferred by bees and other insects from the male to female flower. On commercial farms, gynoecious hybrids are more frequently used as they are more productive and develop earlier.
The cucumber fruit is known as a “false berry.” It grows in either a round or triangular shape and is covered in a hard, thick outer rind. The fruit goes through two stages, immature and mature. During the immature stage, chlorophyll in the cells located under the fruit’s epidermis makes the rind green in color. In the mature stage, the rind changes to a yellow-white color and the epidermal layer may develop warty areas that form a trichomes (spiky hair). The fruit has three locules of soft tissue where the seeds are embedded. The cucumber fruit ranges in color from yellow, orange, white, and green. A regular cucumber contains seeds and can also be referred to as a seeded cucumber. Regular cucumbers have green stripes on a dark green skin with a rough surface and strong trichomes. They are about 15-25 cm in length and uniformly cylindrical. English cucumbers are evenly green throughout and long in length (about 25-50 cm). The English cucumber is cylindrical in shape, with a short, narrow neck at the end of the stem, and contains either atrophic seeds that are barely identifiable or no seeds.
The cucumber plant is native to India and has been cultivated for more than 3000 years. In the United States, the volume of cucumbers pickled is higher than any other vegetable; with 550,000 metric tons being produced each year. The 2012, United States Department of Agriculture data, showed the state of Georgia producing more cucumbers than any other state in the United States with 283.5 million pounds of cucumbers. Florida followed, producing 280.8 million pounds of cucumbers. The most prominent area in Florida producing cucumbers is the west-central region, which includes the counties of Hillsborough, Manatee, and Hardee.
Cucumbers are commonly grouped into three types: burpless, slicing, and pickling. Greenhouse cucumbers are also classified as a cucumber cultivar and can be included in this list.
This cucumber has a mild taste and contains less of the burp-causing compound called cucurbitacin. Burpless cucumbers are long and slender with tender skin; they are available year-round.
The Asian cucumber, a sub-variety of the burpless, grows to between 10 and 14 inches long, is usually thin and straight, and has a dark green color with semi-rough skin. The taste is milder flavor than standard types.
The slicing, or fresh market cucumber is usually 8 – 9 inches long with blocky ends and small yellow ground spots on a thick, dark-green skin. The thick skin of this type of cucumber makes it less prone to damage during harvest. Slicing cucumbers are considered semi-dwarf. The plant only requires two feet of space for growth and it is resistant to powdery mildew, anthracnose, cucumber mosaic virus, downy mildew, scab, and angular leaf spot. Both monoecious and gynoecious hybrids are available.
Regular cucumbers are American cucumbers. These cucumbers belong to a sub-variety of the slicing cucumber. They are typically about eight inches long with a slight bulge in the middle and with larger and more plentiful seeds than other varieties. After harvest, they are waxed to improve moisture retention and shelf life.
These cucumbers are typically warty, thin, and light green color skin with the fruit size ranging from 3 to 7 inches. Maturation can take up to 60 days. Commercial cultivars have black or white spines that form as the fruit matures. The white-spine cultivars usually develop more slowly than the black-spine cultivars but, unlike the black-spine fruit, they generally retain their green color and firmness of their skin longer. The premature black-spine cultivars turn yellow at higher temperatures. Both cultivars are used in the pickling industry. The white-spine cultivars are predominately used in the warmer seasons with mechanical harvesting; whereas as black-spine cultivars are grown in regions that experience cool summer conditions.
The skin of the Kirby cucumber is thin and bumpy, and the color varies from light to dark green. This cucumber is a sub-variety in pickling cucumbers.
It is smaller in size growing 3 – 6 inches long, and often grows in an irregular shape. The flavor it produces can be mild to sour.
The Gherkin cucumber is much smaller than other types, and it has a long distinctive fruit stem. The color ranges from a light yellow to pale green and the fruit is covered in short fleshy spines. The taste of the West Indian Gherkin is sweet at first, then it turns sour.
The Bush Pickle produces four-inch fruits that are deep green in color with pale green stripes and a blocky shape. Maturation takes place in 55 days.
The Armenian cucumber, also known as the ‘snake cucumber’ is actually a member of the melon family. The fruit of the Armenian cucumber is 12 to 15 inches in length with thin pale green skin.
The appearance of greenhouse cultivars is usually long and narrow with smooth skin and rounded ends. There are two types of greenhouse cultivars: English and Japanese. The Japanese cucumber has a melon-like flavor and its taste is never bitter. The English varietals have a high yield potential and are parthenocarpic (fruit being produced without presence of an egg in the ovary) with gynoecious expression, which are different from the Japanese types that are primarily monoecious.
For more information regarding the production and distribution of Cucumbers please visit the Produce Point of Origin Database.
From 1998–2013, in the United States, there have been a total of 10 cucumber-associated outbreaks, during which 483 people became ill and eight were hospitalized. Cucumber salad, cucumber sandwiches, and raw cucumbers are among the implicated food items. The outbreaks occurred in private homes, restaurants, conferences, and hotels.
In 2013, an outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul was linked to imported cucumbers from Mexico. This outbreak caused 84 people to become ill, with 17 hospitalizations. On April 24, 2013, importation of cucumbers was shut down by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; two trading firms were placed on import alert for cucumbers. These two firms had to prove that the cucumbers they were importing into the United States were Salmonella-free before the import alert was lifted.
A 2015 outbreak of Salmonella serotype Poona was linked to cucumbers and prompted a voluntary recall of cucumbers sold by the distributor Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. A second distributor, Custom Produce Sales, also issued a voluntary recall on cucumbers that had been sent by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. The implicated cucumbers were produced by the firm Rancho Don Juanito in Baja California, Mexico and imported to the United States. An investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) observed issues with waste-water management, equipment design of the pre-wash area, and storage of packing material at this firm. Domestically produced cucumbers were not believed to be involved in this outbreak. A total of 907 people across 40 states were infected with the outbreak strain, with 204 hospitalizations and six deaths. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) appeared to link illnesses occurring a month after the recall with illnesses during the peak of the outbreak in August and early September. Investigators were unable to determine if these later illnesses were due to cross-contamination within distribution chains.
To contribute to the Cucumber-associated Foodborne Outbreaks section, please follow this link: https://fsi.colostate.edu/suggest-a-topic/
The growth period of greenhouse cucumbers lasts from 55 – 60 days. The primary method for cucumber planting is direct seeding in rows spaced 3 – 4 feet wide, with 4 – 8 inches between plants in the row. The seed depth should be 1 –1 1 ½ inches. Close proximity of plants will increase the yield, reduce weed growth, and keep the maturity rate uniform.
Cucumbers are sensitive to growing conditions. Favorable growing conditions for a cucumber are similar to that of semitropical plants; humidity, high temperatures, intensity of light, and constant water and nutrient supply are all necessary. Under these conditions, and with proper pest management, the plants have an opportunity to grow fast and produce heavy yield. Maintaining a canopy that allows the maximum amount of light and air to the plant will create maximum yields. This involves frequent pruning of the stems, laterals, and tendrils, as well as vertical wire training. When the plant produces too much fruit, it can cause the plant to become exhausted and abort future fruit.
Air temperature impacts vegetative growth, flower initiation, fruit development and quality. Optimum growing night temperatures range from 66.2 – 68 degrees Fahrenheit and optimum day temperatures range from 68 – 7 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Regulation of greenhouse conditions is important to maximize yield. A disadvantage with high relative humidity is that diseases can develop and there is an increased chance that water condensation could occur on the plants. With low relative humidity, the conditions favor formation of powdery mildew and allow spider mites to reside. The irrigation system is a critical component because large amounts of water must be provided to the growing medium without flooding its roots and depriving them of oxygen.
The trellis saves space and is used to increase air circulation, helping to decrease risk of disease; it also serves as a way to protect the cucumber from developing damage due to moisture from lying on the ground.
Cucumbers grown in Florida have a long harvest season when field grown. In North Florida, field-grown cucumbers are planted from February to April and August to September. In Central Florida, the planting season is from January to March and September for the fall season. For the Southern region of Florida, planting can commence anytime from September to April. Greenhouse production in Florida is usually done September through June. Planting in greenhouses in summer months is avoided due to high heat and humidity, which reduces the plant’s production.
The type of soils used in growing cucumbers varies. Some acidic soils can be used, but they require liming and fertilization before the seeds are planted. Cucumbers grow best in slightly acidic soils with a pH range of 5.8 – 6.5. The soil should be properly prepared before field planting begins. Common steps include soil fumigation, black plastic mulching, applying fertilizer during bed preparation, using foil or other reflective mulches for repelling aphids, and applying direct seeding throughout the mulch. Cucumber seedlings develop faster in higher temperatures, but cucumber growth is improved when soil temperatures are cooler.
Nearly all greenhouse production of cucumbers in Florida uses bag culture and perlite as the medium. Rockwell may also be used as a medium. Greenhouse cucumbers do best in soil with a pH range of 5.5 – 7.5, but, specifically for mineral soils, the pH range must be from 6.0 – 6.5. As for organic soils in greenhouse production, the optimum pH level must range from 5.0 – 5.5.
Different varieties of cucumbers are able to cross pollinate with each other. A pollen grain is needed for each seed within each cucumber. Without proper pollination, the fruit could be aborted, disfigured, or be a poor fruit set (transition of an ovary to a young fruit). Proper pollination hives should be brought to the field when 25% of the plants in the field have flowered. A single flower needs to be visited by bees 10 – 20 times to be pollinated. If the bees are brought into the fields before 25% of the plants have flowered the bees could be attracted to other food sources such as wildflowers, thereby reducing yield. When bringing hives to the fields the weather should not be cool or wet, as these conditions are unfavorable for bees, and this causes the bees to be less active and the outcome is poor fruit sets.
Soil and Amendments
Cucumbers are well grown in muck soil, but can be produced in sandy soils as well, which requires less cleaning before marketing.
In cucumber production, soil amendments are used for improvement of soil quality. Composted green waste or manure can be added to soils before planting begins, which helps to increase the holding capacity for water and supply nutrients to the crop. Farmers must be careful where they purchase the manure from since E. coli is a known contaminant; it is best to look into commercially composted manure. Soil mulches are commonly used to modify soil properties such as temperature, weed control, conserving water, protecting fruit from insects, soil moisture, and to control erosion. There are nutrients that farmers may choose to use during the process of producing cucumbers. The primary nutrients used are nitrogen, potassium, phosphate and the secondary nutrients are considered magnesium, calcium, and sulfur. For cucumbers that are grown on mulch that are polyethylene free, reductions of up to one half of the nitrogen and potassium fertilizer are applied at planting.
Many irrigation systems work well for cucumber production. The type of irrigation system that is used is based on natural resources and cost benefits. Drip, sprinkler, and surface are types of irrigation systems used with mulched production. Drip irrigation uses a variety of plastic pipes to carry a low flow of water under low pressure to plants. The low volume application of water to plant roots allows for a balance of air and water in the soil, providing plants with better growth. Sprinkler irrigation systems are different from the other systems because they apply water through the air versus directly in the soil. The water can be distributed through a pipe or sprinkler head and is sprayed into the air and falls on the ground similar to rainfall. Surface irrigation systems distribute water by gravity flow of water going over the soils’ surface. As this occurs the soil stores the water and the system acts as a medium spreading and infiltrating the water. Some greenhouse cucumbers are irrigated using a closed irrigation technique called a drain-to-waste irrigation system.
Common sources of water for irrigation are ground, surface, or potable waters. The water’s pH is important in an irrigation system, the recommended optimum pH of the nutrient (nitric, sulfuric, and phosphoric acid) solution that is applied to the plants through the irrigation system should range in between 5.5 – 6.0. These conditions vary if the water has a high bicarbonate concentration, which prevents precipitation when fertilizer salts are added.
Salinity, perchlorate, chloride, and glyphosate toxicity can all negatively affect cucumbers during their growing process. Salinity can cause plant growth to be stunted and cause leaves to have a dull, dark green color with a narrow band of yellow necrotic tissue around leaves prone to wilting. Studies have demonstrated that with an increase of salt in the water there is a decrease in cucumber yield. Chloride, when added to water used in the irrigation system, showed a reduction in plant vigor and produced a light green tissue band around the leaves margins, along with necrosis and edge scorching. These leaves are at risk for a reduction in photosynthesis activity and premature leaf abscission. Perchlorate is a strong acid and is available in mineral deposits of natural nitrates. Due to its strong chemical properties it decreases the Ribulose Diphosphate Carboxylase (RuDP) enzyme activity used for cultivation in greenhouse vegetables. The symptoms of exposure to high concentrations of perchlorate include female flowers beginning to open, leaves curling with partial necrosis, a reduction in fruit sets, which in turn reduces yields.
Pests & Insecticides
Pesticides are used in the cucumber production process to help decrease the impact of insects on the plant. There is a range of insects that can attack cucumbers, but the major insects that are prominent in Florida are the pickleworm, melonworm, and silverleaf whitefly. In cucumber greenhouse production, the most common pest is the whitefly. Other insects that impact production outside of greenhouse are arthropods as melon thrips, leafminers, banded cucumber beetle, flea beetles, mites, stink bugs, wireworms, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, squash bug, squash vine borer, and loopers. These pests pose a serious concern for the grower, as cucumber crops have a very low tolerance for insect damage. The cucumber beetle is comprised of six different species across the United States. Three of these beetles are found in Florida. The banded cucumber beetle is located in the southern part of Florida. The spotted cucumber beetle and striped beetle are found in North Florida.
The cucumber beetle’s larvae eat away at the plant from the roots to the stems. As an adult, they eat away at the stems that are below the plastic mulch, as well as the leaves and the fruit. The crop is damaged quickly by feeding on the cotyledons first and then moving to foliage. Crop damage from these beetles often transmits Erwiniatracheiphila, which is the causal agent of bacterial wilt. The squash mosaic virus can also be transmitted and there can be an increase of incidence of powdery mildew, black rot, and fusarium wilt.
Insecticides are typically used to combat bacterial wilt. As for the squash mosaic virus, which is transmitted by insects, once the plant is infected it must be removed so that it does not infect the other plants. Preventative measures, such as weed control, can be taken to try to avoid the occurrence of the virus.
In 2000, Florida growers applied insecticides totaling 15,500 pounds of active ingredient to 97 percent of the state’s fresh-market cucumber acreage. Annually, between 94 – 97 percent of fresh market cucumber acreage has been treated with insecticides; the most commonly applied insecticides in Florida on fresh-market cucumbers are Bacillus Thuringiensis, Methomyl (Lannate®), and Endosulfan, a cyclodiene chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticide.
There are a few techniques that are used to help lessen the chance of the cucumber encountering disease. Commercial growers can utilize certified disease-free seeds and keep the garden and surrounding area free of weeds that harbor insects that can spread viruses and bacterial wilt. Once harvesting is complete, growers should remove the plant debris that is left behind in the garden because some diseases have the ability to survive on plant debris. An important measure in controlling disease is host resistance. The types of diseases that can affect cucumbers are gummy stem blight, which is a leaf disease caused by the fungus Didymella bryoniae, Anthracnose caused by the fungus Colletotrichum obiculare, Fusarium wilt caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum, and downy mildew (favored in moist conditions) caused by the fungus Pseudoperonospora cubensis.
Glyphosphate is an herbicide that, even in small amounts, if absorbed by the cucumber will cause damage such as turning the color of the leaves from light green to a yellow, stunting the growth, and causing upward curling.
Fungicides are most useful when they are applied prior to infection and must be reapplied once the infection occurs every five to seven days. Some examples of the types of fungicides used are Previcur Flex, Gavel, Tanos, and Ranman.
Harvesting, Packaging, and Storage
The harvesting process can be done by hand or machine and is different depending on the cucumber. The following videos will show different harvesting techniques used in growing cucumbers.
Cucumbers should be picked when they are crisp, green, and tender; large fruits should be removed from the vine so that new fruits are encouraged to grow. Slicing cucumbers are hand-harvested at a range of 6–10 inches long and 1.5–2.5 inches in diameter. They usually are picked over a three-week time frame, six to eight times. Pickling cucumbers are generally harvested five to six times, in three to four intervals to avoid oversizing. Gherkin cucumbers are harvested daily or every other day based on the weather and the stage of growth.
Fresh-market cucumbers and European types are hand-harvested and placed in plastic bins to be transported to the packing house. Once the cucumbers have reached the packing house, they are washed, sorted, and graded. Since the fresh-market cucumbers are prone to extreme dryness, they are waxed prior to being packed to help reduce water loss and skin injury. As for greenhouse cucumbers, most are shrink-wrapped with polyethylene films.
Cucumbers should not be stored with produce that generate ethylene, such as apples and tomatoes. The ethylene in these types of produce causes the cucumber to yellow rapidly from the loss of chlorophyll. For the best postharvest results, including a long shelf-life, cucumbers should be stored at a temperature ranging from 44.6–50 degrees Fahrenheit and 85–95% relative humidity in air, 46.4–53.6 degrees Fahrenheit in1–4% oxygen and 50–54.5 degrees Fahrenheit in 0% carbon dioxide.
Some cucumbers are harvested for pickling. There are three general methods used to ferment cucumbers for pickling. One way is by ‘salt shock’, in which cucumbers are preserved in 5–8% sodium chloride until the fermented sugars are converted to acids, increasing the salt concentration along the process. The second method is known as the ‘genuine dill. With this method, the cucumber is fermented in 45% sodium chloride, flavor is added, then the cucumber is sold as is. The ‘overnight dill’ is the third method, which is performed by fermenting cucumbers in 2–4% sodium chloride containing dill weed and garlic; the fermentation continues until it reaches the desired acidity. The pickled cucumbers are then refrigerated.
For more information on cucumber production, please visit Produce Point of Origin Database.
Cucumbers are often eaten raw (with and without the skin), so consumers should thoroughly wash this vegetable under warm running water before eating, cutting, or cooking. Even if the consumer plans on peeling the cucumber before consumption, it is still important to wash first to avoid cross-contamination. A clean produce brush can also be used to scrub firm produce, such as cucumbers. Any damaged or bruised areas of this vegetable should be cut away and discarded. Pre-cut or pre-peeled produce (i.e., those found in veggie platters) should be refrigerated.
Cucumbers are frequently imported from other countries outside the United States and may, therefore, undergo handling at many different points before being purchased by the consumer, so washing this vegetable is very important to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Contamination of cucumbers can occur in the produce field via contact with feces or contaminated water or by unsanitary conditions in packaging or distribution facilities. Additionally, as cucumbers are often eaten in salads and sandwiches, cross-contamination can occur during meal preparation. In multi-ingredient meals such as these, identification of the vehicle in an outbreak can be difficult.
From 1995–2005, there was a 15% growth in the consumption of fresh cucumbers—an approximately 1-pound per capita increase. As of 2012, Americans consumed an average of 6.5 pounds of fresh cucumbers per person. For pickled cucumber, Americans annually consume a more variable amount averaging 9 – 11 pounds per person. According to the 2006–2007 FoodNet Atlas of Exposures, 46.9% of the survey cohort reported eating cucumbers within the past seven days.
More information on storing cucumbers can be found on FoodKeeper App.
Cucumbers are 90 – 95 percent water and, therefore, have limited nutritional value compared to other vegetables. One serving of cucumbers contains about 45 calories, 6% of Vitamin A and Vitamin B6, and 14% Vitamin C. The cucumber can aid in alleviating irritation and sunburn similarly to the aloe plant by applying the sliced cucumbers to the affected area. The slices can also reduce puffiness under the eyes (also known as “bags” under the eyes) since it has anti-inflammatory properties. Cucumbers are rich in vitamins A, B1, B6, C, and D and are a good source of Magnesium, Folate, Calcium, and Potassium. Cucumbers also contain silica, which strengthens connective tissue and promotes healthy joints. Cucumbers contain three lignans: lariciresinol, pinoresinol, and secoisolariciresinol, all of which help reduce the risk of developing cancers such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and prostate cancer.
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Food Science Undergraduate Student
Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University
Christine Van Tubbergen, BS
Epidemiology Graduate Student
Colorado School of Public Health
Benjamin G. Klekamp, MSPH, CPH
Liaison, Florida Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence (Until April 2014)
Florida Department of Health
David Dekevich, MPH
Liaison, Florida Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence
Florida Department of Health
Jamie DeMent, MNS
Coordinator, Food & Waterborne Disease Program
Florida Department of Health