What Causes Deformed Cucumbers?

Hooray! Cucumbers. Look at them all. Isn't it exciting? Well, as you can see above, my cucumber yield is only about half as exciting as it should be. I did get a handful of "normal" cucumbers, but this pile of cukes is a disappointment. If you have cucumbers that start out OK and then become stunted and deformed like these....you've got a problem. There are a few things that may cause this.

Poor Pollination

There's no doubt in my mind that this is what caused my cucumbers to do this. Like squash, cucumbers have female and male flowers and growth of the fruit is reliant on the males pollinating the females. This seems like it's just designed by nature, so nature should just take care of itself, right? Well....yes and no. It takes pollinators, wind, luck, and sometimes your own intervention through hand pollination to make it happen. Clearly, my cucumbers DID pollinate. I know that or they wouldn't have grown this far and they wouldn't have had seeds (they did), but if they didn't pollinate properly or completely, this is the result. Why do I think this is my issue? Because my cucumber "patch" was completely overgrown (see below). I made the mistake of not being optimistic in the beginning of the season. That's right....I thought my little plants wouldn't grow much and so....I planted more. They got so crowded, I could barely find the cucumbers that were growing, and I didn't even know I had a new batch of peas growing behind them because I couldn't see them. Pollinators couldn't really get to the flowers to pollinate them and my hand-pollination efforts weren't complete enough. 

My incredibly overcrowded cucumber patch.

My incredibly overcrowded cucumber patch.

Faced with this poor crop, I finally went about thinning the plants. I should have done this earlier. When you thin plants this late in the season, you have to be careful about the roots. Plants will often entangle their roots together, so yanking one thing out intentionally might unintentionally pull out something else. If you're going to thin now, consider just clipping them down to the base or just be very careful about what you tear out.

Thinned-out cucumber patch.

Thinned-out cucumber patch.

I decided to thin out my cucumber plants. There wasn't any chance that I'd get better cucumbers by leaving it the way it was. Pulling out some plants and not others feels a little like "Sophie's Choice," but it had to be done. I'll keep you posted on the kinds of cucumbers turn out now that the thinning has taken place.

Excessive Heat

We haven't had excessive heat here until very recently, so I know this isn't the issue for my cucumbers. However, heat can kill pollen, but that doesn't mean the dead pollen won't get transferred with the live pollen by bees or hand pollination. If the female doesn't get fully pollinated with live pollen, you may end up with deformed fruit. Essentially this is a pollination problem caused by heat.

Poor Soil Nutrition or Watering

Too much of a good thing can be harmful. If you've over-saturated the soil with too much fertilizer or too much water (or too little), it can negatively impact your plants by causing stress. The fruit you grow can reflect that. 

Disease and/or Pests

If your cucumbers are suffering from a disease like cucumber mosaic or other virus, it could cause poor growth. Pests and growing patterns can contribute to disease. If your cucumbers are lying on the ground, try trellising your vines to keep them off the ground and use insecticidal soap to rid the plants of pests.

Can I eat them anyway?

Yes! Just cut the good parts. I cut mine up into a nice cucumber salad with olive oil, red wine vinegar, dill and sea salt. When life hands you deformed cucumbers....make a salad.

I'm Catherine, a small-space urban gardener in New Jersey (Zone 7a) who started gardening out of upcycled wooden wine boxes. For years, I wanted to try gardening, but didn't know where to start. I got up the nerve to give it a try - starting small with a single wooden wine box that turned an idea into reality. That reality quickly turned into my filling every sunny inch of space of my postage-stamp size lawn and turning it into a garden oasis. I grow mostly vegetables and herbs with some exception for fruits (when the squirrels and rabbits don't get to them first). I love learning from gardening communities (and lots of trial and error).

I hope one day to take all that I'm learning and apply it to a larger plot of land. To help me get there, I'm extending my learning through the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge School of Agriculture's, Sustainable Food & Farming program. (I'm addicted to learning as much as I am to gardening.)

This blog isn't just for gardeners (although I hope it inspires some of you to try growing a plant or two). The recipes (food & cocktails) in theRecipes section of this blog contain ingredients that don't have to come from your own backyard. If you like visiting your local farmer's market(or even your grocery store) and would like to get some new recipes you can use with the fresh produce and herbs you get from your local growers, this blog will have plenty for you too.

In addition to gardening and cooking, I also love to visit and photograph my surroundings. I feel fortunate to have so many amazing places here in New York/New Jersey, where I live and work. Visits to local farms, farmer's markets, and cycling through rural farming areas help me feel connected and refreshed. share these experiences in theExploring section of the blog so that you might visit through proxy or be inspired enough to visit yourself. 

With very few exceptions, all of the photographs on this site are ones I have taken myself. (For the photographers out there, I shoot with a Canon 7D and sometimes with my Lumix  DMC-ZS15 compact camera.) 

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Happy Gardening and Healthful Living!

- Catherine