Don't let the name fool you: There's nothing sour or citrusy about the flavor of lemon cucumbers (Cucumis sativus). The name comes from the beautiful yellow skin on these uniquely shaped heirloom cucumbers. These round cucumbers have a mild, slightly sweet flavor, and they're much smaller than traditional cucumbers, so they're ideal for snacking. Growing lemon cucumbers is very similar to traditional cucumbers. Knowing when to pick them helps you enjoy the peak of their flavor and ripeness.
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Pick lemon cucumbers when they're just starting to turn yellow. The size of a mature lemon cucumber is about 2 to 3 inches, or roughly between an egg and a tennis ball size. Waiting too long to pick lemon cucumbers results in tough skin and a bitter flavor.
Lemon Cucumber Time to Maturity
Compared to other plants in your vegetable garden, lemon cucumbers grow fairly quickly. They mature in roughly 60 to 75 days from seed. The seeds take roughly five to 10 days to germinate. As you pick lemon cucumbers, more grow, so it's best to start picking them as soon as they mature. Lemon cucumbers have a range of time when they taste good, so you don't have to watch the calendar closely and pick it only at a certain time.
Signs of Maturity
Timing isn't the only factor when it comes to deciding when to pick lemon cucumbers. Look for signs of maturity in the cucumbers themselves before deciding to harvest. The longer you wait to pick the cucumbers, the thicker the skin becomes and the larger the seeds grow. An overly ripe harvest can also taste bitter.
Ripe lemon cucumbers measure between 2 and 3 inches long. Estimate a 2-inch cucumber as roughly the size of an egg. The skin and seeds are edible at that size, although the cucumbers aren't considered fully ripe until they're closer to 3 inches, or roughly the size of a tennis ball. Anything larger is likely too ripe.
The skin color is another clue that it's time to pick lemon cucumbers. As they ripen, the skin turns from green to light yellow to dark yellow. Pick them when they're just starting to turn yellow. If the ends are yellow, it's a sign they're overripe. Dark yellow skin also means you've waited a little too long to harvest. The cucumbers are still edible, but you may not like the thicker skin and more bitter flavor.
Tips for Harvesting Lemon Cucumbers
Harvesting the ripe cucumbers is easy. Snip the stem just above the fruit using a clean knife, scissors or pruning shears. It's a good idea to check the plants each day, as the cucumbers grow quickly. If you wait more than a day to check, you may discover several of them are overly ripe.
Lemon cucumbers don't last long when harvested, so pick only what you can eat soon. At room temperature, they usually last a day or two until shriveling starts. They tend to last longer at room temperature than they do in the refrigerator, so it's better to leave them on the counter than to store them in the fridge. Pickling the lemon cucumbers is a way to make them last longer.