After planting a batch of mixed seedlings from my local nursery, I soon realized that I had a few different varieties of cucumber to harvest, some with prickles on the skin and some without.
This raised concern about the different tastes they might offer and why they have prickles in the first place!
After a ton of research, I have found a few reasons why some of my cucumbers are prickly, and I am happy to share the info with you.
Why Are My Cucumbers Prickly?
Cucumbers are prickly because it is their defense mechanism. It is usual for cucumbers to have prickles, and they are not toxic if eaten. The prickles on the cucumbers protect their skin and flesh against passing insects that want to take a nibble.
When you think about blowfish or a hedgehog, for example, they use their spikes to protect themselves from predators and when they feel threatened.
While some cucumbers are pricklier than others, they all serve the same function. Prickles can be seen as tiny fine hairs or obviously raised spikes on the skin’s surface.
I will detail the varieties of cucumbers, their prickliness, and what you can do to remove the prickly bits!
Pickling cucumbers, commonly known as Gherkins, are available in the vine, bush, or dwarf varieties. Generally, they have more prickles than sliced cucumbers and are shorter and fatter, making them ideal to fit into pickling jars.
Pickling cucumbers are harvested when they are immature compared to regular cucumbers and are covered in small black or white spikes (prickles).
You can buy these in the stores, and they will probably have removed the prickles before you buy them.
The most popular varieties of pickling cucumbers to look out for are:
- Boston Pickling – Ready for harvest 55 days after planting and produces sweet, tender blunt-ended fruits with black spines.
- Boothby’s Blond – Ready for harvest 55-60 days after sowing and produces off-white skin, can grow up to 6 inches (15 cm) long, and require no peeling.
- Calypso – Ready to harvest 50-60 days after planting and is a disease-resistant hybrid displaying light to dark green color with raised spikes.
If you decide to grow any of the above varieties of pickling cucumbers, you can remove the spikes by using a vegetable brush or damp cloth to rub them off before putting them in the jar.
When harvesting them, wear gloves and carefully remove them from the vine with a sharp, clean pair of scissors.
While slicing cucumbers are usually grown for their length and thin smoother skin, they can still contain some fine sharp hairs. They have not raised spikes like the pickling cucumbers, but they can still be uncomfortable to eat if not removed.
Some people prefer to peel cucumbers, while others prefer the extra skin crunch in their meal; either way removing the sharp hairs makes them easier to handle in the kitchen.
Slicing cucumbers produce more fruit on the vine than pickling cucumbers, and some popular and hybridized varieties to consider are:
- Diva – Bred to be spineless and produce 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) of long fruit. Sweet flavor and crunchy texture and ready to harvest in 58 days
- Burpless – Known for its silky dark green skin and for producing fruits up to 12 inches (30 cm) long. Ready to harvest within 60 days of planting.
- Marketer – Produces fruit up to 9 inches (23 cm) long and generally thinner than other varieties. It has dark green smooth skin with a sweet, mild flavor.
As it is a natural characteristic for cucumbers to have prickles, some horticulturists have developed these hybrids to produce less, if any prickles and spines.
Harvesting Prickly Cucumbers
When it comes to harvesting your cucumbers, you might be in for a surprise if you don’t take the necessary precautions to protect your hands.
This summer, my garden provided me with an abundance of cucumbers, and little did I know that they were covered in spikes. They looked bumpy, but I thought nothing of it until I got one of the tiny thorny spikes in my hand!
When harvesting cucumbers, wear a pair of garden gloves for protection until you have taken them to the kitchen and removed the little prickles.
Harvest cucumbers by using a clean, sharp pair of scissors or secateurs and snip them off the vine, leaving a 1-inch (2.4 cm) stem on the top. This will prevent them from over-ripening sooner than needed.
Removing the Prickles
After harvesting, your cucumbers will keep your hands safe from the torturous prickles, and you can begin to remove the spikes.
To remove the prickles from the cucumber, run them under a running tap and gently wash them with a pair of plastic gloves on.
Another option to remove the prickles from your cucumbers is to use a kitchen towel and rub them off until they feel smooth.
Some people use a veggie brush to clean the fruit and veg they have harvested from the garden, and you can also use this to remove the prickles.
If you use a brush, try not to scrub the cucumbers too hard, or you will damage their skin, and they won’t stay in the fridge for long.
The cucumber prickles are not difficult to remove, and although we are used to them not being present on the store-bought ones, you get to experience their characteristics firsthand!
This is a little extra step to be taken as you grow your food.
Eating Prickly Cucumbers
Eating prickly cucumbers is not proven to be fatal, but it can be somewhat uncomfortable. The prickles are not quite as sharp as a cactus, but it’s not really a feeling I would like to experience!
Whether you have grown your own or bought them from a store, always check to see if there are any prickles on the skin’s surface.
You can remove them by washing or wiping them; alternatively, you can peel the skin off and just eat the smooth flesh.
Cucumbers are naturally prickly to protect themselves from hungry insects, and while it is good for them, it is not so pleasant on our hands or in our mouths.
To avoid the risk of ending up with a load of cucumber splinters in your hand this harvest season, try growing a variety that has been bred with fewer spikes.
For the pickling varieties, which will almost always have bumps and spikes make sure to use a pair of gardening gloves when harvesting or even training the vines.