Dill-icious! Your Garden Guide to Growing and Pickling Cucumbers

When you garden, not only do you get the perk of enjoying delicious, newly harvested produce, but you can also enjoy foods made with your fresh ingredients, including jellies, salsas…and one of our favorites: pickles.

Pickles are nutritious, not especially difficult to make, and they’re yummy.

And now that we’re in pickle season, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy them for yourself.

Cucumber season

In the U.S., cucumber-growing season generally begins in late spring and continues until the first frost of fall, though the exact timing depends on which region you live in. Peak pickle harvesting takes place in June, July, and August.

In most cases, the time between planting cucumbers and harvesting them takes about 50 to 70 days, depending on the variety you go with and growing conditions.

Generally, if you’re growing pickling cucumbers, you should aim to harvest them when they’re about 2 to 4 inches long, while slicing cucumbers are ready for harvest when they’re about 6 to 8 inches long.

Tips for growing cucumbers

If you’d like to try growing cucumbers, you can sow seeds directly into your garden or start them indoors for three to four weeks before transplanting them. 

Grow them in a spot that gets full sun (at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day). Your cucumbers will do best in well-drained soil with a pH balance (acidity) between 6.0 and 6.8. We recommend adding compost or aged manure to improve your soil’s fertility and drainage. 

When you’re ready to plant, place your seeds about 1 inch into your soil about 6 inches apart. Once seedlings are established, thin them to 12 inches apart. If you’re planting seedlings, space them 12 inches apart.

You can grow your cucumbers in rows—spaced about 36 inches from one another—or mounds. Mounds should be about 6 to 8 inches high. Plant four or five seeds in each, and after seedlings are established thin them to the best two or three plants per mound.

Your cucumbers will benefit from a balanced fertilizer during planting and when they begin to flower.

Plan to use trellises or cages to support your cucumber vines, keep their fruit off the ground, and improve air circulation, which promotes healthier plants.

Selecting the right variety

Technically, you can pickle any kind of cucumber, but some varieties are especially well suited for pickling. 

A few great choices include:

  • Boston pickling cucumber: This is an heirloom plant dating back to the 1880s. It produces high yields of crisp fruit with smooth skin.
  • Calypso: This is a great option for picking and fresh eating. Calypso cucumbers are high-yield and have a firm, crisp texture.
  • Kirby pickling cucumber: These are classic pickling cucumbers. They’re about 3 to 6 inches long with bumpy skin, and they’re prized for their texture and crispness.
  • National pickling cucumber: This variety is a bit larger than the Kirby, and it’s a bit sweeter.

Rise and brine: When you’re ready to pickle

When it’s time to pickle, you’ll need some basic equipment including quart- or pint-sized mason jars with new tight-sealing lids and bands. If you plan to process your jars to extend their shelf life, you’ll need a large pot for water-bath canning, and a jar lifter to safely remove the hot jars from the pot when you’re done.

Aside from the cucumbers themselves, the primary pickling ingredient you’ll be using is brine, the mixture that transforms cucumbers into pickles.

We’ve included a basic brine recipe below.

  • 1 cup vinegar (white or apple cider)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon pickling salt or kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional, to taste)
  • Spices and herbs as desired

Combine the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved.

Sweet pickle recipe adjustment

To convert this basic brine recipe to a sweet pickle recipe, increase the sugar to 1 cup. You can also add spices like 1 teaspoon of celery seed and 1 teaspoon of mustard seed for additional flavor.

Pickling 101

We’ve also included guidelines for quick, simple pickling.

  • Wash your cucumbers thoroughly and cut off the blossom end. Slice into spears or slices or leave whole. For 12-pint jars, you’ll need about 10 pounds of cucumbers. For 12-quart jars, aim for 15-20 pounds of cucumbers.
  • Sterilize your jars and lids by boiling them or washing them in a dishwasher with a sterilize setting.
  • Prepare your brine according to your recipe.
  • Pack cucumbers into the jars, leaving about a half-inch of space on top. If desired, add garlic, herbs, and spices like dill or mustard seeds.
  • Pour the hot brine over the cucumbers, covering them completely. Leave a half-inch of space on top.
  • Wipe the rims of the jars clean, place the lids on top, and screw on the bands until they’re fingertip tight, meaning the band is screwed on just until resistance is met and then turned a little further, about the strength of your fingertip.
  • If you plan to can the pickles, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. (Adjust for altitude, if necessary. Call your county extension service for guidance.)
  • Let the jars cool completely at room temperature. Check the seals, and store the jars in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate after opening.

Seal the dill

For dill pickles, your ingredients would be:

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups white vinegar 
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt or kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 2 pounds fresh cucumbers (about 4-5 inches long)
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 8 fresh dill heads or 4 teaspoons dill seeds
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Add the 1-2 dill heads or 1/2 teaspoon dill seeds, 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds, and a few peppercorns with your cucumbers when you pack each jar.

Allow the pickles to sit for at least a week to develop full flavor.

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