The Q&A Archives: Misshapen Cucumbers

Question: Our cucumbers are small and misshapen -- some are curled into a "C" -- and the flavor is bitter. Why is this happening, and is there anything we can do to improve the crop?

Answer: The curling could be due to poor pollination or physical damage to the young cucumber. Cucumber fruits are composed of three interior segments or locules. For the cucumber to grow straight, all the seeds in each locule need to be properly pollinated. If one of the locules doesn't develop normally (because of improper pollination or physical damage to the fruit while it's still young) and the other two continue growing, then the cucumber will be curled. Growing cucumbers on the ground can also cause curling. Young cucumbers are growing so fast that if a stem or stick gets in the way, the fruit is forced to grow around it. Trellis your cucumber plants to avoid this problem.

Bitterness is often related to water stress. Cucumbers grow quickly once pollinated. If there is any water stress during this period of rapid growth, they will tend to taste bitter. To avoid stress, water the plants deeply once or twice a week, letting the water soak at least six inches deep into the soil, and mulch with hay or straw to conserve moisture.

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