Cucumber – I know, it’s the stable, dependable friend in our healthy salad relationship. Cucumbers are so ubiquitous, we hardly notice them at all, but it’s the one vegetable we’ve been taking for granted. Because to grow that perfect refreshing cucumber, it takes way more work than you realize. How much? Well, that’s what we’re about to find out: Cucumber, How Does it Grow? Now, I’ve grown cucumbers in my own garden, and I’ll tell you what: It’s really easy to grow bitter cucumbers…Bitterness is caused by the build-up of natural non-toxic chemicals called cucurbitacins, which can repel predators. I guess including us! These chemicals build up when the plant is stressed. Like if there’s a drought and it doesn’t get enough water; or if it gets too much of a good thing, like too much fertilizer, and it’s pressure to grow too fast. If you do taste some bitterness, try peeling it and cutting off the ends. That’s where the cucurbitacins concentrate. Historically cucumbers began life as a bitter fruit. And yes, cucumbers are technically fruits. They originated in India, where bitter melon, a cucumber cousin is still a staple today. Cucumbers have been cultivated for at least 3,000 years, and they’re one of the oldest crops to be grown in a controlled environment. There are lots of cucumber varieties, but they’re generally divided into three categories: slicing cucumbers: generally thick-skinned smooth ones; pickling cucumbers: short, warty ones like gherkins and Kirbies; and seedless cucumbers like English or hothouse cucumbers. You can also call these burpless – because there are no seeds there to give you indigestion. For this episode we’re following the story of the slicing cucumber. Cucumbers, by the way, are technically harvested while they’re still immature. If this was allowed to continue growing on the vine, it would get bigger, and seedier and eventually turn yellow – not how we like to eat our cucumbers. In the U.S., Georgia is one of our top cucumber producers, and we’re here at Southern Valley, a family-owned farm that specializes in growing cucumbers, in a very particular way. But first I have a question for you… Hey, are you enjoying this episode? Great! Can you help us make more of them? Until we have your support to fully fund “How Does it Grow?”, we make these films whenever we can. If you want to see monthly “How Does it Grow?”s – imagine weekly! Then click the link immediately below this video, and become a True Food TV patron. Remember we make these food education films for everyone to watch for free. Your support helps keep them that way. Thank you and back to the show! Most American farms gross slicing cucumbers right on the ground, but some farms like Southern Valley use a stake and netting system, which keeps the vines off the ground. And they do that here over 800 acres, because it yields higher quality and quantity. But it’s also the most labor-intensive way, because it’s done entirely by hand. Okay, so here’s what I mean about labor-intensive. First, they hand transplant the baby plants grown in the greenhouse. Then, they place stakes in the ground one by one. They attach the netting. And then, they thread each plant through the netting – not once, but three times – as the plant grows higher and higher. Guys, this is a ridiculous amount of work. For most vegetables, farmers aren’t working one-on-one with every plant. They’re monitoring the field. These guys do all this for something as humdrum as a cucumber. That’s almost crazy! But there’s another key player in this hard-working team: the bee! Cucumber farms rely on bees, typically one hive per acre. That means at least 25,000 bees per acre. See, to get a beautiful straight perfect looking cucumber like this, Austin says a flower has to be pollinated at least seven times. Now these vines keep on flowering throughout the season, so those bees are working and working and working for up to ten weeks. (Austin): A bee likes a nice, cool, sunny day – clear, no clouds, no rain… (Austin): …not a lot of wind.
(Nicole): Prima Donnas! (Nicole): But you don’t have perfect weather so that does affect…right? (Austin): It affects the bee pollination on a daily basis. Coz one week you might have straight cucumbers, the next week they may be all curvy… (Nicole): You probably don’t make as much on that kind of cucumber, right? (Austin): No, we sell those that at a less…less price normally. (Nicole): Even though they taste perfect… (Austin): They taste identical. (Austin): See this?
(Nicole): Yeah? (Austin): Ugly cucumber.
(Nicole): Yeah… (Austin): We’re gonna split it in half…let you have some.
(Nicole): Cheers! Okay! At Southern Valley, there’s not just one harvest time for cucumbers. These vines will keep bearing fruit until the first frost hits. That means the harvest team goes out at least 20 times before season’s end. (Nicole): So it’s a twist and a pull. The vines are a little bit spiky.
(Farmer): Yes. (Nicole): So…so long sleeves is probably…
(Farmer): Yes, when working I have long sleeves. So they’re usually picking with both hands, and just like dragging the bucket along. With one person per row it takes about five minutes to clear an acre. Each man gets paid by the bucket, and the buckets are really heavy when they’re full, though you wouldn’t know it by the speed with which these guys move. From the field, the cucumbers are taken to be washed, waxed, sized, packed, and cooled. A cucumber is 90% water. Once it’s refrigerated. The inside can be 20 degrees cooler than the outside. And so we say: “cool as a cucumber”.