Bitter taste in cucumbers can be removed

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What can I do to keep my homegrown cucumbers from being bitter, especially on the ends?  I have grown all varieties, and they always have a bitterness under the skin and on the ends. I have never bought one that was like that, either in the store or on a stand on the side of the road. From Cherry

A: This is a common question I receive every year.

This not only happens in our own gardens, but occasionally you might get a store-bought cucumber that is bitter.

The compounds that cause bitterness in cucumbers are cucurbitacin B and cucurbitacin C. Wild cucumbers, most of which are extremely bitter, might also contain a number of related compounds.

The curcurbitacins occur in all parts of a plant. The leaves, stems and roots of most cultivated varieties contain varying amounts of them. Only occasionally, though, do the bitter compounds spread into the cucumber fruit. When it does, the bitterness isn't uniform in the cucumber. It will vary from fruit to fruit and even within individual fruits.

Two important points: The compounds are likely to be more concentrated at the stem end than the blossom end of the fruit. The bitterness, if it's there, is always in and just under the skin. It's not deep into the fleshy portion or in the seed cavity.

When using cucumbers for salad, always taste a small portion from the stem end of each cucumber before slicing the rest. If it is bitter, you can usually eliminate the bitterness by removing the outer flesh with the peeler. Peel even more deeply at the stem end, since this is where bitter compounds penetrate most deeply. The bitterness level in cucumbers varies from year to year.

There are many theories as to why, but it has been hard to get consistent information as to its cause. Temperature appears to be one of them. I generally hear more complaints of bitter cucumbers early in the growing season and during a cooler summer than a warmer one.

Research has shown that fertilization practices, plant spacing and irrigation frequency have little consistent effect on the number of bitter cucumbers produced.

Contrary to some people's belief, the direction of peeling doesn't affect the spread of bitterness in a cucumber.

Different cucumber cultivars vary widely in their tendency to be bitter. In tests in several Western states a few years ago, Improved Long Green, Eversweet, Ashley, Lemon and Saticoy Hybrid had the least bitterness.

Even though irrigation practices haven't proven to greatly affect the number of bitter cucumbers produced, nubbins and other misshapen fruit associated with poor irrigation seem more likely to be bitter than well-shaped fruits. So provide the plants with ample and uniform moisture and adequate nutrients for proper growth. These practices result in rapid, uniform growth of the fruit.

Leaving cucumbers on the vine too long can also lead to a disappointing, often bitter taste. Cucumbers grow fast once they start producing, so be sure to plant only as much as you can keep up with, keeping the harvest young.

The best advice for any gardener is to plant varieties that have been shown to produce a low percentage of bitter fruit. Besides the varieties already listed, bitterness hasn't been a problem in the newer, long hybrids that have become popular.

In general, pickling varieties tend to have more bitter fruits than slicing varieties. However, the amount of bitterness found in commercial pickling varies doesn't seem sufficient to impair flavor in either sweet or dill pickles made from them, even if bitter cucumbers are used.

WEED CONTROL IN LAWNS

This is the time of the summer when many folks want to know how to kill different weeds in their lawn. Some people might be trying to kill the weeds themselves and others have lawn care companies. Some people just don't understand that there are many prolific weeds that can be hard to kill. In addition, many weeds have to be sprayed more than one time before they die. This is especially true with perennial weeds.

Keep in mind, too, that the more mature a weed gets the harder it is to kill.

Young weeds that first come up are much easier to kill than ones that have been growing for several months.

There is no "silver bullet" out there that kills all types of weeds.

Most of the time you will need two and sometimes three weed killers to tackle all the weeds in your lawn. There are herbicides that can be safely used on some turf grasses that will kill others.

It is best to spray for weeds shortly after a good rain. Drought-stressed weeds are harder to kill than succulent weeds that have good moisture in them.

It is also safer to use on your lawn and minimizes the potential damage. With the hot temperatures of the summer, it is much safer to spray during the early morning since that is the coolest part of the day.


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