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Causes of crooked cucumbers

Bob Dluzen
Special to The Detroit News

Cucumbers are one of the most popular vegetables grown, and rank in second place behind tomatoes. 

Anyone who has ever grown this long salad veggie has had the experience of finding distorted cucumbers. They can be strongly bent into a C-shape, pinched at one end or show other kinds of distortions.

There are several reasons for crooked cukes, the most common being incomplete or inadequate pollination. 

Pollen particles produced by cucumber flowers are somewhat sticky and tend to clump together rather than being dry and powdery like corn pollen. As a result, cucumber pollen cannot be carried by the wind, as is the case with corn, so must be moved by insects, mostly honeybees and other bee species.

Three examples of distorted cucumbers caused by incomplete pollination compared to a normal cucumber.

Around 15 bee visits are required to each single cucumber flower before pollination is complete. During those bee visits, the pollen is picked up from a male cucumber flower and moved to the female flower’s stigma. There each pollen grain sends down a tube to the ovary where it fertilizes an egg forming the beginnings of a seed. 

There are dozens of eggs present in each flower which is why we see so many seeds in a cucumber fruit. 

The fertilized eggs stimulate the release of plant hormones. The hormones in turn, stimulate the growth of fruit cells, which form a fleshy protective capsule surrounding each developing seed. It is these fleshy structures that eventually grow into a cucumber fruit.

If a group of eggs are not pollinated, then no seeds are present to stimulate the hormones that cause fruit cells to grow. The absence of the fleshy, protective capsules causes the distortion we see in the fruit as the fertilized portions continue to grow normally. 

Cucumbers distorted by poor pollination are perfectly fine to eat.

Stressful growing conditions such as a drought can also result in misshapen fruit. Lack of water will also produce bitter-tasting cucumbers.

Low soil fertility is another cause of distortion, which can sometimes be corrected as the plants are growing by side dressing  with a complete fertilizer such as 12-12-12 or other similar formulation.

Diseases and insect damage can be responsible for distorted cucumbers, but those have different looking kinds of damage, such as holes in the fruit or lesions on the skin. Minor fungal lesions can be cut away and the rest of the cucumber can be eaten. Cucumbers with large areas of infection are basically rotting on the vine and of course must be thrown out.