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Barbara Pleasant: Cucumbers for Pickles

borage blossoms
Growing borage near cucumbers seems to discourage cucumber beetles. I suspect the cucumber beetles are intimidated by the big bumblebees that hang out in the borage.

More Pleasant Reading on Cucumbers


At GrowVeg.com:


Make Homemade Pickles Without Canning


Time to Make Homemade Pickles


at Mother Earth News


All About Growing Cucumbers


The Great Cucumber Challenge

pickling cucumbers Cucumis sativus

Fresh cucumbers are great on the summer table, but pickled cucumbers easily last for a year. From a single planting of pickling cucumbers, I put up more than a case of assorted dills, sweet pickles, bread-and-butters and various relishes. That makes a year's supply of homemade pickles!

Questions, you have questions…

Do you need to grow special pickling cucumbers?

Yes if you’re making fermented pickles and yes if you want baby sweets, because both benefit from the superior structure of small, firm pickling cucumbers. For general pickle-making, any cucumbers including heirlooms, slicers, Armenians, Japanese, you name it make will make decent pickles when picked young and firm. With pickling cucumbers and larger varieties, little scissors are the perfect cucumber harvesting tool. Ideally, you want the seeds inside to be visibly formed, but still soft and translucent.


Why not grow different kinds? We grow about 6 plants of a pickling cucumber that is resistant to  bacterial wilt - either '' or 'Little Leaf' or 'County Fair' -- especially for pickles. Even when cucumber beetles (which spread bacterial wilt) are active, the plants stay healthy and produce a dependable crop. This is essential when a year's supply of pickes is at stake. 


Looking for the most productive  pickling cucumbers?

I'm pasting in the results from the University of Rhode Island 2012 Variety Trials of pickling cucumbers. Interesting reading!

"The white-fruited variety Salt and Pepper showed the best performance, followed by H-19 Little Leaf. This is not surprising, as these varieties have been shown to be unattractive to cucumber beetles in other trials. Salt and Pepper produced 416 fruit with only 6% culls. H-19 Little Leaf produced 365 fruit with only 5% culls; most culls were for shape. Both varieties had excellent plant survival and excellent tolerance to or avoidance of bacterial wilt. H-19 Little Leaf tended towards a smaller fruit size than the other varieties, but still produced 30% large fruit.

"The third-place variety was Jackson. This traditional green variety produced 249 fruit with only 7% culls (primarily due to shape) despite being susceptible to bacterial wilt. Most of the fruit were produced within a 3-week period.


"The other varieties in the trial showed a mixture of strengths and weaknesses that limited their ability to yield marketable fruit. Adam Gherkin was very attractive to the cucumber beetles and suffered severe wilt. Harmonie and Vertina were tolerant of bacterial wilt but beetle feeding on the fruit led to high levels of culls. Northern Pickling and Sassy had issues with both wilt and culls, Calypso struggled with wilt, and Eureka and Wealthy had small plants that yielded poorly."

pickling cucumbers and slicers
pickling cucumbers and slicers

When using regular cucumbers for pickles, cutting them into chunks, so that each piece holds a bit of rind, will give you many interesting pickle variations.

tulle row cover on cucumber;;
Wedding net, also called tulle, makes a fine row cover to protect cucumbers from cucumber beetles and other pests. I gather up the veil when the plants start blooming heavily. 
baby dill
If you're gonna make homemade pickles you'll need some dill, which is very easy to grow from seeds sown directly in the garden. Dill's leaves, yellow flower umbels and seeds all can be gathered at pickling time. A cool-season annual, dill will even reseed with a little help. 
As long as the weather stays mild, I make a batch of fermented dills from perfect pickling cucumbers. But once summer gets hot, temperatures in my house are too warm for making good fermented pickles.
When growing cucumbers for pickles, using a trellis makes the little cukes easier to find. Harvesting little pickling cucumbers can be tedious!
My new book, freshly sprouted in May!
Every recipe you could dream of for pickles, relishes and other fun condiments is in The Pickled Pantry by my friend Andrea Chesman.