Saving seeds from cucumbers will save you money and allow you to select for traits that you prefer in your growing conditions. Cucumbers are one of the easiest garden vegetables to save seeds from.
Saving your own seeds ensures food security and preserves heritage varieties for genetic diversity for future generations
My favorite cucumber is Lemon cucumber — sweet balls of yellow, juicy cucumber flavour. Lemon cucumbers are an open pollinated, heritage variety that doesn’t get bitter, as it ripens. I picked 5 lbs. of them at Covert Farms (Organic) in Oliver last Friday, at their you-pick field. I didn’t pick enough.
I saved the seed. The 3 rows of lemon cucumbers were growing between rows of Armenian cucumbers. The seed might not be pure, as there were pickling cukes in the same field, but I think it’s worth a try to save the seed. I picked a few overripe ones just to save the seed. Saving seeds from cucumbers uses a similar technique to saving seeds from tomatoes.
Cucumbers, however, are pollinated by insects. Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) which include Lemon cucumbers, pickling cukes and English cukes, among others, will cross with each other. Armenian cucumbers, which are really melons, won’t cross with cucumbers. You will need to keep a separation of a 1/4 mile between varieties of cucumbers or plants where there is a windbreak of trees to separate your cucumbers if you need pure seed.
How to hand pollinate
Or you can hand pollinate your plants and keep them isolated from other cucumbers, by taping the female flower closed.
Cucumber plants, like squash, have both female and male flowers on each plant. Take a male flower from the plant and open the flower to expose the stamen. Gently brush the stamen against the ovary in a female flower. Tape the female flower closed. Pollinate more female flowers than you need, as the plant will put out more female flowers than it can set as fruit. Mark the pollinated flowers by tying a string around the stem. These are the fruit that you will allow to over ripen for seed.
When to harvest cucumbers for seed
Let the fruits ripen on the vine long beyond when you would pick them for eating. They will swell and change colour to deep yellow, orange or white when they are ready. Pick the fully ripe fruit.
How to save the seed from cucumbers
Scoop out the seeds from your fully ripe cucumbers into a shallow container. Allow the seeds to ferment for three days, in a warm place. This is similar to tomatoes. Stir daily and add water if necessary to keep the seeds moist. The bad seeds and pulp will float to the top and the good seeds will sink to the bottom.
This fermentation removes the germination inhibitors and destroys seed borne viruses and bacteria.
Scoop off the bad seeds and pulp. Then pour the good seeds into a sieve and wash them. Drain the excess water from the seeds.
Spread on a paper towel to dry. Seeds are dry when they break instead of bend (How to Save Your Own Vegetable Seed. Seeds of Diversity Canada, 1996.)
Store them, labelled with date and variety. Cucumber seeds will remain viable for up to 3 years if kept dry.
Do you have more cucumbers than you can eat? Make tzatziki. You can grab the recipe here.
Or lacto-fermented dill pickles like grandma used to make.