Cucumber (Revised)

Scientific Name
Cucumis sativus L.
Order / Family
Violales: Cucurbitaceae (Gourd family)
Local Names
Cucumber, gherkin (English); Concombre, Cornichon (French); Pepino (Portugease); Tango (Swahili).
Pests & Diseases:
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Other pests: Leafminer, Powdery mildew

Geographical Distribution in Africa

Geographical Distribution of Cucumber in Africa. Updated on 8 July 2019. Source FAOSTAT
© OpenStreetMap contributors, © OpenMapTiles, GBIF.
The cucumber is native to the region around the Himalayas south to Bangladesh and Thailand but is now grown worldwide.

Other Local names

Angola: Nungo (Kimbundu), Pepino (Portuguese)
Morocco: Khiyar (Arabic); Concombre (French)
 

 

General Information and Agronomic Aspects

Introduction

Cucumis sativus, commonly known as cucumber, is a widely cultivated plant belonging to the genus Cucumis and the family Cucurbitaceae. This family includes other important plants such as pumpkins, squash, gourds and zucchini. Cucumis is a diverse genus, comprising around 95 known species.
Cucumber is native to South Asia but is now cultivated worldwide. It is a warm-season annual vine that thrives in temperate and tropical regions. Cucumber plants have sprawling vines with large leaves and produce cylindrical fruits that can vary in size, shape, and color, depending on the variety. They are typically grown in gardens, greenhouses, and commercial farms.
Cucumber is mainly grown for the immature fruits, which are consumed fresh (slicing cucumber) in salads, sandwiches or used for pickles (pickling cucumber). The slicing cucumbers are peeled, sliced and served with vinegar or dressing, or as an ingredient of salads. The large, yellow, round types are boiled and eaten as an ingredient of stews. Pickling cucumbers are preserved or marinated with vinegar, salt, or spices.

Long type cucumber in Nairobi market, Kenya. Ⓒ Foods of the Nairobi people, 2005
Long type cucumber in Nairobi market, Kenya.
Ⓒ Foods of the Nairobi people, 2005

Cucumbers are a good source of vitamin C. Cucumber's mild and refreshing flavour makes it a popular ingredient in various cuisines around the world, including Mediterranean, Asian, and Middle Eastern dishes. In many tropical African countries, cucumbers are considered exotic or Western vegetables. Southern African states however have their specific large type common in markets and used in local food preparations. They are primarily used by urban consumers. Cucumbers are low in calories and rich in water content, making them a hydrating and refreshing food choice. They are a good source of vitamins, including vitamin K and vitamin C, as well as minerals like potassium and magnesium. Cucumbers also contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that have been associated with potential health benefits, such as reducing inflammation and supporting digestion. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, which aids in digestion and promotes a healthy gut. The skin of cucumbers contains additional nutrients, so it is recommended to consume them with the peel whenever possible.
Ripe raw cucumber fruits are believed to have curative properties for sprue, and in Indo-China, cooked immature fruits are used to treat dysentery in children. The cucumber seeds have anthelmintic properties. Cucumber extract is known for its cleansing, soothing, and softening effects on the skin, making it a popular ingredient in various health and beauty products. Non-food uses of cucumber are not widespread in Africa.
(Van Luijk, M.N., 2004, Khan, A., et al., 2021, Maundu et al., 2007).

Species account

Cucumis sativus (cucumber) is an herbaceous, annual plant (surviving only one growing season) that typically grows in a trailing or climbing manner, with curling tendrils for support. Leaves: palmate and alternate in arrangement, deeply lobed with three to five lobes and have a rough texture. Leaves are typically green in color and have a rough surface due to small prickles. Flowers: produce both male and female flowers, usually yellow in color. Male flowers appear in clusters, while the female flowers are solitary and distinguishable by the presence of a small ovary at the base. Flowers are insect-pollinated and produce nectar to attract pollinators. Fruit: vary in size, shape, color and texture but is generally a curved cylindrical or elongated, although some varieties can be round or oval. The skin range from smooth to bumpy, and the color may vary from dark green to light green or even yellow. Some cultivars have a striped or mottled pattern on the skin. The flesh of the cucumber is crisp and juicy, containing numerous seeds. Seeds :ovate-oblong, compressed, white, smooth. Seedling with epigeal germination.

(Van Luijk, M.N., 2004. plantvillage.psu.edu)

Rough Cucumber in Nairobi market, Kenya Ⓒ Foods of the Nairobi people, 2005
Rough Cucumber in Nairobi market, Kenya
Ⓒ Foods of the Nairobi people, 2005

 

Long type cucumber in Nairobi market, Kenya. Ⓒ Foods of the Nairobi people, 2005
Long type cucumber in Nairobi market, Kenya.
Ⓒ Foods of the Nairobi people, 2005

Short cucumber in Nairobi market, Kenya. Ⓒ Foods of the Nairobi people, 2005
Short cucumber in Nairobi market, Kenya.
Ⓒ Foods of the Nairobi people, 2005

Varieties.
The species Cucumis sativus displays significant variation, which has led to the development of numerous cultivars with different characteristics. Variations in fruit size, shape, color, taste, and disease resistance have been selected and bred by growers to meet specific consumer preferences and market demands. This variability within the species allows for a wide range of cucumber types to be grown and enjoyed worldwide.

Cucumber varieties are categorized into four types on basis of fruit length: 
•    Long cucumbers: Fruit length over 30 cm. Examples: "Berlin RZ", "Bologna RZ", "Cumlande RZ", "Myrthos RZ", "Pluto RZ" "Virginia RZ")
•    Midi cucumbers: Fruit length between 18 -24 cm Examples: "Media RZ
•    "Mini cucumbers: Fruit length between 15 -19 cm. Examples: "Khassib RZ", "Gianco RZ
•    "Cocktail cucumbers: Less than 15 cm. Examples: "Rania RZ"
 
Other varieties include:
•    "Ashley" It takes about 65 days to maturity. Fruit colour is dark green. Fruit shape is long and spined. It has some resistance to downy mildew.
•    "Danora F1 Hybrid". It is a long cucumber. It tales about 65 days to maturity. Fruit colour is green. Fruit is elongated. It has good resistance to powdery mildew and leaf spot.
•    "Palomar". It takes about about 60 days to maturity. Fruit is dark green. Fruit is long and cylindrical. It has good tolerance to leaf diseases. It is good for pickling.
•    "Poinsett". Poinsett is a variety with a very high yield potential, good disease and heat resistance
•    ."Sarig". It is dark green in colour. Fruit length of 14-16 cm. It is very smooth and of high quality. It has a long shelf life. It is resistant to powdery mildew. It is suitable for green house production.
•    "Super Marketer". Maturity period is 45 to 60 days. It grows well in hot climatic conditions. Its very high yielding about 16-32 t/ha. It is very popular in the local market.
•    "Tempo" ("HA 78"). It is dark green in colour. The average fruit length is 30-35 cm. It has a good shelf life of up to 2 weeks. It is resistant to powdery mildew.
•    "Toaz". It has a very vigorous growth. Fruit is dark green in colour. Fruit length is 16-18 cm. It is smooth and has a good shelf life, It is suitable for green house production.
•    "Long Fellow"
•    "Hybrid Victory"
•    "Kande" (new variety produced in Tanzania)
Because varieties change all the time, please ask your local seed company to give information about the available varieties.

Cucumber. © Biovision.

Marketable cucumbers: The two long varieties are greenhouse types that need protected environment and careful staking so as not to damage fruits. The two short types on the right can be grown in open fields and without staking. Pickling varieties are even smaller, but also baby fruits of the two field varieties are good for pickling. 

Ecological conditions 
Cucumber requires a warm climate. The optimum temperature for growth is about 30degC and the optimum night temperature 18-21degC. In the tropics, elevations up to 1700 m appear to be suitable for cucumber cultivation. A lot of light tends to increase the number of staminate (male) flowers. Cucumbers need a fair amount of water but they cannot stand waterlogging. High relative humidity encourages downy mildew. The soil should preferably be fertile and well-drained, with a pH of 6.5-7.5. Long and medium long slicing cucumber varieties are grown in greenhouses where climate and other growing conditions can be controlled. 

Agronomic aspects 

Cucumber is propagated by seed. Soil preparation requires generous incorporation of well-rotted manure. About 30 t/ha or 15 tons/ha should be applied inside the planting holes together with a spoonful of rock phosphate (3 tea spoons) for each planting hole. Sowing is done directly in the field with several seeds per hill, 90-120 cm apart, then thinned to 2-3 plants per hill, or seeds are sown in nursery beds and seedlings transplanted to the field at the 2-true-leaf stage at 30-40 cm within and 1-2 m between the rows. Sowing rates per ha are about 2.5-3 kg for direct seeding and 1 kg when transplanted. Cucumber cultivated for pickles is planted closer, up to 250,000 plants/ha. For greenhouse varieties plants are started in individual pots and transplanted to permanent position when they have 2-3 permanent leaves. 

Husbandry
Weed control is necessary until the plants cover the soil entirely. Support (stakes) should be provided for some cultivars, and the tip of the main stem can be nipped off to encourage branching. Irrigate at frequent intervals, and maintain a high level of soil moisture throughout the growing period. Lateral shoots can be pruned after the first fruits have formed to limit leaf and flower production. Greenhouse varieties are staked according to preferred practices, usually by means of twisting the growing stem around a string attached to an overhead strong wire. There are indications that irrigation water containing applications of effective micro-organisms (EM) can prevent damping off and early attacks of diseases on leaves.
Irrigation should preferably be applied in the form of drip in order to prevent water splashes and spread of diseases. Staked cucumbers are very susceptible to wind, so if grown in open land should be carefully protected from wind.

Harvest, post-harvest practices and markets 

Harvest
Cucumbers for fresh consumption are harvested before they are fully mature, usually starting about 50- 60 days after planting, and thereafter every few days. Mature fruits are yellow and the flesh is often tough with woody seeds. For pickling, immature fruits of several stages are harvested. Only for seed production are cucumbers allowed to mature on the plant.

Post-harvest practices
Cucumbers should be handled with care as they get damaged easily during transport. Depending on variety one plant may yield up to 10 fruits, and total yields with good plant care can easily reach 50 tons/ ha of the larger fruit types. More common yields are 25-30 tonnes/ha. Fruits should not be left to ripen on the vines as the plants will cease to bear. The marketed fruit must be firm, green and the size typical of the cultivar
Some of the long slicing cultivars of cucumber are packed individually before marketing and cooled.

Value addition and markets

Common cucumber value addition methods include pickling, juicing, and using cucumber extracts in skincare products. Pickling cucumbers in vinegar or brine extends their shelf life and creates a tangy snack or side dish. Juicing or blending cucumbers into smoothies adds a refreshing and nutritious element to beverages. 
Cucumbers are globally popular vegetables, top cucumber producers include China, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and the United States. These countries have substantial cucumber cultivation and supply to both domestic and international markets. The United States, European Union, Japan, and Southeast Asian countries are significant cucumber markets.
In Africa, cucumber cultivation is widespread, primarily for domestic consumption and local markets. Countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and Morocco are notable cucumber producers. Cucumbers form an essential part of African diets and are used in various traditional dishes and salads. However, the export of cucumbers from Africa is relatively limited compared to major global producers. In recent years, there has been an increasing demand for fresh and organic produce globally, including cucumbers. Consumers are seeking healthier food choices, driving the popularity of cucumbers in salads and healthy beverages. Additionally, the rising trend of natural skincare products has boosted the demand for cucumber extracts in the cosmetic industry.
(Van Luijk, M.N., 2004. tridge.com)

Nutritional value and recipes

Cucumbers offer a versatile culinary diversity, making them a popular ingredient in various cuisines around the world. They can be enjoyed raw in salads, sandwiches, or as a refreshing side dish. In Mediterranean cuisine, cucumbers are often combined with yogurt to create tzatziki, a cooling sauce or dip. In East Asian cuisine, they are pickled or added to sushi rolls. Additionally, cucumbers can be juiced or blended into smoothies for a refreshing beverage. 
Cucumbers are low in calories but high in vitamin C. Cucumbers are primarily composed of water, accounting for about 95% of their weight. This high water content helps to keep the body hydrated, especially during hot summer months. They also contain a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium, though in small quantities compared to green leafy vegetables. Cucumbers also contain antioxidants, including flavonoids and tannins, which prevent the accumulation of harmful free radicals and may reduce the risk of chronic disease.
One of the notable benefits of cucumbers is their potential to aid in weight management. Due to their low calorie and high water content, cucumbers are a filling snack that can help satisfy hunger cravings without adding excessive calories 
(healthline.com, webmd.com/)

Approximate nutritional value for 100g of Cucumber, green, unpeeled, raw

Proximate composition and dietary energy

Cucumber, green, unpeeled, raw

Recommended daily allowance (approx.) for adultsa

Edible conversion factor

0.97

 

Energy (kJ)

47

9623

Energy (kcal)

11

2,300

Water (g)

96.2

2000-3000c

Protein (g)

0.6

50

Fat (g)

0.1

<30(male), <20 (female)b

Carbohydrate available (g)

1.3

225 -325g

Fibre (g)

1.4

30d

Ash (g)

0.5

 

Mineral composition

 

 

Ca (mg)

20

800

Fe (mg)

0.7

14

Mg (mg)

14

300

P (mg)

20

800

K (mg)

136

4,700f

Na (mg)

22

<2300e

Zn (mg)

0.18

15

Se (mcg)

1

60

Bioactive compound composition

 

 

Vit A RAE (mcg)

0

800

Vit A RE (mcg)

1

800

Retinol (mcg)

0

1000

b-carotene equivalent (mcg)

5

600 – 1500g

Thiamin (mg)

0.03

1.4

Riboflavin (mg)

0.02

1.6

Niacin (mg)

0.20

18

Dietary Folate Eq.(mcg)

7

400

Vit B12 (mcg)

0

3

Vit C (mg)

7

60

Source (Nutrient data): FAO/Government of Kenya. 2018. Kenya Food Composition Tables. Nairobi, 254 pp. http://www.fao.org/3/I9120EN/i9120en.pdf

RE=retinol equivalents.

RAE =Retinol activity equivalents. A RAE is defined as 1μg all-trans-retinol, 12μg beta-carotene, or 24μg α-carotene or β-cryptoxanthin.

a Lewis, J. 2019. Codex nutrient reference values. Rome. FAO and WHO

b NHS (refers to saturated fat)

c https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/water/

d British Heart Foundation

e FDA

f NIH

g Mayo Clinic

 

 

 

Information on Diseases

General Information

Many viruses affect the cucumber family. The important viruses include cucumber mosaic virus, watermelon mosaic virus and squash mosaic virus. Field symptoms of these three diseases are similar and therefore it is very difficult to separate them by symptoms alone. Leaf symptoms include a prominent light and green mosaic pattern, mottling (yellow with green islands or blisters), and in severe cases, leaf distortion whereby affected leaves appear fern-like. Diseased fruits are malformed (slightly to severely misshaped with wart-like lumps).


Examples of Cucumber Diseases and Organic Control Methods

Contact Links

 

Review Process

Dr. Patrick Maundu, James Kioko, Charei Munene and Monique Hunziker, June 2024

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