Lemon Cucumber: When Are They Ripe?

green talk&gardening sept 07

See update 1/30/12 below

I started growing an heirloom called Lemon Cucumbers this spring. My seed package did not have a picture.  I thought the cucumbers would have a hint of lemon, hence their name lemon cucumbers.

In the last month, my cucumber plants have been going wild with flowers and these yellow tennis balls have been emerging.  Thinking that they will eventually turn green and elongate, I just left them on the vine. 

Week after week, these tennis balls with facial hair kept getting bigger, but did not turn green. I finally picked on and cut it open.  The rind was a little tough and there was a lot of seeds like a melon.   The cucumbers did not have a particular taste.  I thought they were kind of bland.  Plus, they made me burp.

Thinking that I left these cucumbers on the vine too long, I looked up what should the cucumbers look like.  There on the internet, plain as day, was my yellow hairy tennis balls.

Did I let them stay on the vine too long?

Again, I went back to the internet and found different stories of when to pick them.  Some blogs said pick them when they are green and small.  Others said yellow and small.

What should they taste like?  Some said sweet but the skin will be tough if you leave them on the vine too long.  Mine were definitely not sweet.

Readers, I need help.  When should I pick these lemon cucumbers and how should they taste?

Update 1/30/2012: I have now been growing them for over 3 years and they are far the easiest cucumber to grow.  You have to pick them when they are smaller or they will be too seedy.  (See comments below.)  For some recipes see here.  I even pickled them.  See here for the recipe.


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Comments

  1. 2

    Green Talk says

    Hi Paul-thanks for the comment. How small is small? Mine are usually tennis ball size with a five o’clock shadow. I was told that they were supposed to taste a little lemony. Did you taste a lemon flavor?

    Paul’s website is http://www.sustainablefoodservice.net/, which provides “product information, resources, news and operational assistance to foodservice operators interested in sustainability.”

    Come back and visit often so that you can share your knowledge on sustainability and help me with my plant mysteries!

  2. 3

    paul says

    I think they are better when they are smaller than a tennis ball because you don’t have so much of the mooshy, seed part, but they are definately edible at tennis ball size. Thats actually about the size I’ve been picking them because I didn’t get to them soon enough. I don’t think they are supposed to have a lemon taste, just look like lemons. My plants have been going crazy and we have way too many of them…

    Thanks for the plug of my site. I need to get to work on it and finish it up…

    Cheers

    Paul

  3. 4

    Green Talk says

    Thanks again, Paul for your comments. Did you find that you had a problem with powdery mildew, and the leaves became brown as soon as the cucumbers started to grow? I was wondering if this was the nature of this cucumber or all cucumbers.

    Are you an experienced gardener or like me, my vegetables grow despite my mistakes? I hope you will come back again and comment, and good luck with your website. Keep us informed when it is finished.

    Readers, I write alot about organic gardening in addition to green living content. Alot of time I need help and post questions about my garden. Could use the help from fellow gardeners!

  4. 5

    WEW says

    This was very helpful. We just started to garden in containers in Tucson, Ariz. and bought some lemon cucmber plants. Much like your experience – we have these yellow globes about the size of a fist and were wondering if they should get bigger before picking them. I’ll go harvest them this morning and see how they taste for dinner tonight. Thanks again for providing this information to “new” gardeners who are learning as we go.

    • 6

      Green Talk says

      WEW, if you let them get too big they just get seedy. Tell me what you think compared to regular cukes.

      Learn from my mistakes! I have lots of gardening posts. Just check the category, gardening, which is listed on the far right hand side column. Anna

    • 8

      Green Talk says

      Jan, I don’t recall if I get flowers. You may have something different than me. I am growing them now, so I will pay attention. Anna

  5. 9

    Joe says

    Yep, as it has said within this blog, if they get bigger than a tennis ball, the seeds become hard and BIG! And the rind is rather tough. As for the taste, they taste very similer to a green cuke, but I believe there is a slight hint of a “lemon taste without the sour.” I know, crazy, for what does a lemon taste like without the sour? But I think this will enlighten you… Put two or three drops of lemon in an eight oz. glass of water, then picture that taste coupled with a cucumbers taste.
    So, as for texture, if you’re not looking for a good colon cleansing, pick them when they’re about the size of a ripe meyer’s lemon rather than the size of a ripe eureka lemon.
    Interesting Note…
    Did you ever hear that fruits and vegatables mimic the shape of what God intended them being good for? ie. carrots=eyes, brocolli=lungs, avocado=ovaries, etc… Lemon Cucumbers= well, I’ll let you figure it out, LOL…

    Happy Gardening

    • 10

      Green Talk says

      Joe, I love your comment about how veggies look like the parts of our bodies. Thanks for the comment about when to know when a lemon cucumber is ripe for eating. Anna

  6. 12

    Green Talk says

    Glenna,

    That is good to know in case I run out of room in my garden. This cuke is so hearty. It keeps growing and growing. Anna

  7. 13

    Lucynda Riley says

    I prefer to eat them when they are tennis ball sized. If your seeds were hard you definitely left them on the vine to long. I usually pick them at just about tennis ball sized. They generally have a milder cucumber taste for me. Still better than what you get in the store.
    .-= Lucynda Riley´s last blog .. =-.

  8. 15

    Art says

    I’m not an authority but I think you should pick them small ; a little larger than a lemon. Much larger and they get seedy. They’re not supposed to taste lemony,just grow yellow and relatively small, hence the name “lemon”. Art

  9. 16

    Angela says

    Hi,
    I was wondering what is the average growth time on the lemon cucumber? I have a container garden and planted them in early June. I have three large vines and many blossoms that have some forming at the base but they are not getting any bigger. I am new to gardening and in the past had a black thumb killing everything in my path. I am really surprised to see everything still very green and anxious to taste my success. Any information would be great.

    • 17

      Anna@Green Talk says

      Angela, about 55-65 day. I am zone 5, and I plant cukes 2 weeks after frost date which is Memorial Day for me. You planted a little later so you cukes will come later. Anna

  10. 18

    Cleta says

    Lemon cucumbers are very susceptible to powdery mildew and I seemed to get it every year, which usually ruined my plant and fruiting! This year, I used an organic spray for powdery mildew and sprayed BEFORE the plant was infected, and it worked! No powderly mildew, just lots of flowers and new lemon cucumbers! I also give it plenty of breathing room and no overhead watering in the evening!

  11. 20

    Shelea says

    I’m in Illinois, and while I planted in late June, I picked my first lemon cuke just this morning. It was the only mature one, but I now have dozens of ‘gestating’ cukes to come, if an early frost doesn’t get them first.

    As to when to pick, I follow the guidelines that say ‘light green with just a hint of yellow’ rather than pay any attention to size. I understand that the full yellow color signals the beginning of the cuke’s cycle change into preparing the seeds for the next generation.

      • 22

        Shelea says

        I discovered them when I lived in California, before moving to Illinois. I can’t find them here, so the last resort was to grow my own. I just love them, and really missed them a lot.

        My favorite uses are in salads of any kind; cut fairly thick to use with a dip; and just eating like an apple with just a wee pinch of salt.

  12. 23

    Vicki Bolduc says

    not sure if anyone is still reading this thread as it goes back a while – but wanted to say thanks for the advice about these cucumbers. I have grown them for the first time this year, I purchased the seeds from the Eden Project in Cornwall. I will harvest mine this weekend as they are pretty much lemon sized. I tried a mixture of 1 part milk, 3 parts water for the powdery mildew (I removed all affected leaves first) then sprayed the rest with this solution and it worked a treat – also used it on my courgette plants.

  13. 25

    Wendy says

    This is a wonderful site! This summer, I have become more adventurous and started growing beyond my normal herbs and tomatoes. One of my plants is a lemon cucumber plant. This morning I was looking at them and they looked like little round hairy balls. It made me curious to search on the web to see what these guys will end up looking like. I was really surprised to see that they don’t end up looking like the typical cuke I’m used to.

    I have not ventured out to growing my veggie plants in garden beds. This year I started container gardening. I planted a cucumber and zucchini plant in the same container about 2 feet wide and 2 feet high. Could this be why my zucchini plant isn’t growing tons of zucchinis like everyone says they do? I’ve started adding fertilizer once per week as both the cuke and zucchini plants has flowers. I have harvested 2 zucchinis so far and see many other little guys growing. I see lots of little hairy cukes growing so I”m excited!

    Regarding the milk solution, do you spray onto the leaves only? What time of day is the best to spray them?

    • 26

      Anna@GreenTalk says

      I spray at dusk. Check to see if your zucchini has any old wood looking vines. (Kind of like it is dying) It may have a worm. This year it killed all my zucchini. Only feed it every 3 weeks.

      Also, zucchini gets very large. It just probably doesn’t have room to grow. You can trellis the cucumber on a tomato cage to have it grow up and over your zucchini. Normally mine zucchini gets about 3 feet by two feet high and keeps expanding. But if it is flowering, then it sounds like you will be getting lots of zucchini. Anna
      Anna@GreenTalk´s last blog post ..What Is a Community Solar Garden?

  14. 28

    rich says

    Based on some of the posts here, I picked my first lemon cuke yesterday. I got it just before it all turned yellow and it was about 2/3 size of a tennis ball. I could tell it was just the right moment to pick… maybe a few days too late… because the seeds were on the verge of becoming too large and the flesh too hard, but it was just about right. I think picking them when there is still a good bit of green on them is probably right… for me anyway. The taste was quite good. There is no lemon-ness to it at all. It’s just the way they look that gives them the name.

  15. 29

    Wendy says

    Thanks, Rich – knowing the size really helps me a lot! Mine are about 1.5″ round.

    Anna/Rich – when I harvest teh cucumber, will it still be hairy looking? OR does it smooth out?

    I’m really excited at the thought that I will actually have some cucumbers to harvest!

  16. 30

    Wendy says

    Hi Anna! Still wondering if the lemon cucumber is still prickly/hairy when it’s time to harvest it? Or does the skin smooth out? Mine are still about 1.5 inches, small and prickly/hairy.

    Thanks!

  17. 32

    Wendy says

    Hi Anna,
    My delicata squash plant is having the powdery mildew, which is sad because it started off so vibrant with gorgeous green leaves. I just sprayed with some milk spray tonight. How often do you have to spray it with the milk solution?

    thanks!
    Wendy

    • 33

      Anna@Green Talk says

      I do it every couple of days or when it rains. It might be too far gone. I usually spray as prevention. Did you do the 8 to 1 part water to milk? You might need to take the bad leave off. They will start browning anyways. Don’t you hate mildew. Let me know how it goes. What you might be doing is saving the new growth from getting sick. Anna

  18. 34

    Tom says

    I just grew and harvested my first ever lemon cukes. One the size of a tennis ball the other a little bigger than a baseball. The larger one actually had more flavor than the smaller one but definitely had more seeds. Add a little rice vinegar and salt and pepper. Delish!

  19. 35

    Lucy says

    Thanks for the tips on lemon cukes. I grew and harvested some for the first time this year and love them. For some reason regular cukes didn’t do very well but I’ve gotten several lemon. Just put them on a sandwich and it was great!

  20. 36

    Butler Grower says

    Lemon cucumbers are best when they are about 1.5″ in diameter- pick them as soon as they begin to turn yellow- this is when they are the most tender. The little hairs are normal- just ‘de-bur’ them by rubbing them down a bit in your hands (use gloves if you have tender skin). I grow produce for a local prominent caterer here in California, and for lemon cukes- this is what she wants. If theey get overly yellow, I keep them for myself, and just peel the tougher yellow skins away before eating. best for crunchiness if you eat the pickings within two days..:) No, they do not have a lemon taste.

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