I have been educating myself about breeding vegetables and saving seeds this winter. As I was reading Suzanne Ashworth’s book, Seed to Seed, I stumbled across an explanation for bitterness in cucumbers. The cucumbers I grow often taste a bit bitter so this information really caught my attention.
The bitterness in cucumbers is caused by chemical compounds called cucurbitacins. Cucurbitacins are toxic to humans and the bitterness is a warning not to eat them. According to Ashworth, the amount of the cucurbitacins found in the fruit is genetically controlled. Although environment can play a role in the level of compounds present and therefore the amount of bitterness, plants are only “slightly influenced” by the amount of water the plants receive. Additionally, she explains that bitterness in cucumbers is not caused by crossing with a melon or a squash which is actually botanically not possible. Her recommended solution is to not save seeds from plants that produce bitter fruit.
Next year, I will plant cucumbers where they get regular moisture (Perhaps right below a swale?) and I won’t save seeds if the fruit tastes bitter.
If anyone is interested in saving seeds, particularly from plants that readily cross pollinate, Suzanne Ashworth’s book is a great source of information about recommended isolation distances and techniques, seed collecting and preserving and potential breeding partners.
-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout