We don't pick the cucumbers like we would in the garden so they'll set fruit, mature the fruit and die. Often they get a late season disease like downy mildew which kills the leaves but doesn't affect the maturing of the cukes. As long as there are roots and vines the fruit will mature and we can harvest the seeds from them. A ripe fruit with mature seed will be fat and brown and getting very close to being rotten.
Cukes are usually harvested late in the fall; up until they freeze to insure the seed is mature. We've harvested them as early as September and as late as November; it's best to leave them until they are nearly impossible to pick up and put in a bucket. You can't have them over ripe; they just don't get too ripe. They can, of course, lose their shape and become dried and flattened which them makes it nearly impossible to extract the seed on a large scale but we pick before they come to this stage.
Once we determine the seeds are ready to be harvested we pick them into 5 gallon buckets and deposit them into a machine we call the Vine Crop Harvester. This machine (more on the actual machine in a later column) grinds the fruits releasing the juice and the seed. This mixture of juice, seed and crushed fruit drops into a rotating screen with perforated holes which separate the seed and juice (now called slurry) mixture from the pulp. The pulp goes to the compost pile or back onto the field and the slurry mixture gets put into barrels:
|Slurry mixture ready for phase 2.|
This is a picture of the sluice way here at the farm; it is filled with cucumber slurry and the foam is from the fermenting that occurred overnight.
The slurry mixture is slowly added to the sluiceway and seed separation occurs:
|Seed ready to be dried.|
As you can see here the clean seed is sitting on the bottom of the sluice waiting to be removed and dried. Once the water is drained the seed is taken out of the sluiceway and placed on the drier in the greenhouse. We use a drier in a greenhouse to harvest the large amounts of free heat generated in there this time of year.
Until next week, enjoy the fall. Brian