Usually, when you’re planting an edible garden, whether you’re a seasoned pro with a list of favorites or just starting out with your first vegetable garden, you’ll stick to foods you’re familiar with, such as popular tomato varieties or easy-to-grow potatoes. But it’s also fun to experiment with less-common fruits and veggies that you might not normally see at the grocery store; you don’t have to plant a whole row of them, but trying just one or two new plants each year could lead to finding an all-time favorite ('Black Beauty' zucchinis are among my faves). Lemon cucumbers aren’t exactly a supermarket staple, but these unusual veggies have plenty of traits that make them a must in your garden.
Despite their name, lemon cucumbers don’t have any citrus-like flavor; they taste just like the traditional green, oblong cucumbers you’re used to seeing and eating (they’re often considered a little less bitter, though). Instead, the “lemon” part of their name refers to their appearance; each one is about the same size and shape as an egg or a lemon, and turns yellow when ripe instead of staying green. On the vine, they almost look like tiny melons (to which they are related).
How to Grow Lemon Cucumbers
Another perk of growing lemon cucumbers is that they can tolerate slightly cooler temperatures than other popular varieties. If you want to start the seeds indoors, plant them about three or four weeks before the last spring frost in your area. Usually though, it’s better to sow the seeds directly outside; you can plant them once the soil temperature is over 60°F. Plant the seeds about an inch deep in groups of four to six, with up to 2 feet of space between each group. Keep the soil evenly moist, and the seeds should sprout in 1 to 2 weeks.
Plant in a spot with full sun, where the plants will get at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight every day, and keep them well-watered. Typically, lemon cucumbers need about 1 to 2 inches of water every week to thrive, so keep track of how much rain you’re getting, and give them an extra drink if needed. For the best harvest, the soil should be evenly moist but not soggy. A layer of mulch can help the soil retain moisture while also preventing weeds. You can also save some space by planting lemon cucumbers near a fence; they’ll need a little training to climb it, but it can help keep your garden a little neater.
When to Harvest Lemon Cucumbers
These veggies grow fast; they’re ready to pick as soon as 60 days after planting. You’ll know it’s time to harvest when the cucumbers start to turn from green to yellow. Don’t let them turn a deep yellow, or they’ll be overripe and have a bitter taste; instead, pluck them from the vine when they’re just starting to change color, and about the size of a lemon. As long as you keep picking, the plant will keep producing more and more cucumbers!
Lemon cucumbers are a fun way to put a new spin on classic recipes. Try using them to top off a salad, float a couple of slices in a glass of water, or snack on the slices with a yummy dip. One perk of their small size: It’s easy to use the entire veggie at once, so you don’t have to worry about saving leftover slices! Especially if regular cucumbers make an appearance in your veggie garden every year, try growing this unusual variety for a twist on an old favorite.