Commercial Production of Pickling & Slicing Cucumbers in North Carolina


Table of Contents

Pickling and slicing cucumbers are major crops in North Carolina with 27,000 to 36,000 total acres planted yearly. North Carolina cucumber acreage is concentrated in the central coastal plain, with substantial fresh-market production also located south of Asheville (Figure 1). Both pickling and slicing cucumbers have been included in this bulletin because many production practices are similar for both types. When necessary, distinctions are made between the cucumber types.

Fig 1. Shaded counties indicate the primary areas of cucumber production.

Pickling Cucumbers

"Pickling" refers to cucumbers that are primarily used for processing or pickling. Pickling cucumbers have thin skins, are short and blocky, and usually have a color gradient from dark green at the stem end to light green at the blossom end. In addition, a pickling cucumber fruit has a whiter or lighter green belly (where fruit and soil are in contact) (Plate 1) than does a slicing cucumber (Plate 2).

Plate 1. Pickling cucumbers

Plate 1

Plate 2. Slicing cucumbers

Plate 2

In North Carolina, pickling cucumber acreage has fluctuated during the past 10 years with approximately 22,000 to 28,000 acres planted. In 1994, North Carolina led the nation in harvested pickling cucumber acreage (25,000 acres) and accounted for about 22% of U.S. production acreage (USDA 1995). Other states leading in pickling cucumber production (based on harvested acreage) are Michigan (21%), Texas (12%), South Carolina (7%), Wisconsin (5%), California (4%), and Ohio (3%) (USDA 1995).

Pickling cucumber production has changed in the last 15 years. In eastern North Carolina, pickling cucumbers are a popular crop on tobacco farms, which usually have a labor surplus during June, the month with the most concentrated cucumber harvest. Traditionally, pickling cucumbers were grown on small acreages (less than 10 acres) with no irrigation and few inputs other than labor. Many tobacco farmers are now growing large acreages to diversify their farming operations and increase revenues. With the uncertain future of tobacco, these farmers have intensified their production practices for vegetables such as cucumbers to increase yield and profits. Most successful cucumber growers carefully follow recommended production procedures that result in substantial dollar returns (see Marketing section for more information).


Slicing Cucumbers

"Slicing" refers to cucumbers sold fresh for immediate consumption usually as a salad item. Characterized by thick, uniform, dark green skins, slicing cucumbers are longer than pickling types, and their thicker skins are more resistant to damage during handling and shipping (Plate 2).

In North Carolina, slicing cucumber acreage has ranged from 5,000 to 8,000 acres during the past 10 years, depending on season and market conditions. In 1996, harvested slicing cucumber acreage (6,000 acres) in North Carolina accounted for approximately 10% of the U.S. production acreage (Food Institute and Research Center 1996). More recently, a larger percentage of growers are producing and selling pickling cucumbers for fresh-market sales. There is a demand by certain markets for the fresh thin-skinned cucumbers which are often placed in cello packages. Most fresh-market cucumber acreage in the United States is concentrated in the South, as well as in California and Michigan (USDA 1995).

Next section: Cultural Management

Crops      Commercial Horticulture


Prepared by:
Jonathan R. Schultheis, Extension Horticulturist
Charles W. Averre, Extension Plant Pathologist, Emeritus
Michael D. Boyette, Extension Biological and Agricultural Engineer
Edmund A. Estes, Extension Economist
Gerald J. Holmes, Extension Plant Pathologist
David W. Monks, Extension Weed Scientist
Kenneth A. Sorensen, Extension Entomologist

A hard copy of this publication may be obtained from the following address:

Communication Services
Box 7603
N.C. State University
Raleigh, NC 27603-7603
Phone: 919-513-3112
Make ($5.00 AG-552) check payable to: N.C. State University