Grow So Easy Organic: Protect Cucumbers from Diseases & Bugs

Cucumbers are a favorite in my home garden and I’m sure they are a favorite in other gardens, too.  They produce a lot of tasty product for a very small investment in seed.

But cucumbers are also one of the fastest plants to succumb to infestations from one particular bug and the diseases that bug carries.

So, let’s talk a bit about armed warfare on Cucumber Beetles…another of my top 10 most hated insects.

Bugs That Bug Cucumbers
Diseases that affect cucumbers are transmitted by bugs.  So instead of listing the diseases, I’m going to share the disease name(s) and the critters that carry them throughout your garden.  I’ll also share my unorthodox methods for controlling them.

Bacterial Wilt – Plants infected with bacterial wilt are victims of a cucumber beetle attack. Cuke beetles carry the disease organism in their bodies.  It overwinters with them as the beetles take up residence and hibernate in any vegetation, including weeds that are left in the garden.  Cucumber beetles emerge just in time to feed on tender cucumber seedlings.

Spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpun...

Spotted cucumber beetle (they come with stripes, too). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even if you can’t see them, plants are frequently infected with the disease-causing bacteria from beetles long before the symptoms show. When the vines wilt and collapse (usually about the same time that the first cucumbers are half-grown), it is too late to prevent the disease.

It’s easy to see why cucumber beetles are on my Top 10 Most Hated list and they deserve to be.  Small — 1/4 inch long, black and yellow spotted or striped beetles, cucumber beetles are voracious and can kill cucumber plants whether they’re young or established.  They even attack seedlings!

They feed on foliage, flowers, and fruit and bore into stems. And they fly from one plant to another and can easily carry bacterial wilt with them.  So, cucumber beetles should be controlled from the time that the young seedlings emerge from the soil.

Your best defenses for these beetles and the bacterial wilt they bring with them are:

  1. Clean up the garden in the fall.
  2. In planting season, cover your baby cucumber plants with a light, spun row cover until just before pollination is required.

If you do these two things, you might just cut down on the number of cucumber beetles and be able to raise a nice crop of these wonderful, crunchy, green delicacies!

Use row covers early in the game but remember, cukes need to be pollinated so you can’t keep them covered forever.  You can also make up a mix of insecticidal soap and spray frequently.

And squash these beetles relentlessly.  I shake the vines and when they fly out, use my thumb and forefinger to crush them.  You can put a dent in the population if you take 15 minutes every evening to find and kill them.  These really are the only organic methods I know of to kill cucumber beetles.

Keep in mind that cucumber beetles are equal opportunity pests so make sure you check any squash or melon that you are trying to grow for these bugs.

Aphids — Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.  These tiny bugs come in a whole lot of colors – green, black, brown, red, pink – but if they’re pear-shaped, slow-moving and small — 1/16 to 1/8 inch long – you are looking at an aphid colony.

Colonies are found along stems and on the underside of a leaf. These little munchers like succulent new growth. They suck sap from the plants causing leaves and stems to become distorted and damaging the plant.  Aphids can also transmit other plant diseases so they are not welcome guests in any gardener’s patch.

And aphids reproduce quickly so if you don’t control them, you will have several generations of aphids living in your garden.  The University of Illinois  has  good information on cucumber beetles and a great data bank on a lot of bugs – what they are, what they do and how to handle them.

Recipes

I’m only including one actual recipe for cukes because I love them fresh.  So here are a couple of my favorite “fresh” serving suggestions for cukes:

  1. Sliced with mayo on homemade bread is my favorite.
  2. Sliced, mixed with sliced onions and covered with a dressing made of half mayo and half plain yogurt with a dab of sugar and a bit of cider vinegar comes in a close second.
  3. Cukes as a principal ingredient in my favorite cold soup – gazpacho – well it’s a close second, too.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

INGREDIENTS:
¾ C kosher salt
1 Qt Cider Vinegar
2 Qts Water
Fresh Garlic cloves
Fresh Dill seed heads
Peppercorns
Onion slices optional

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Thoroughly dissolve the salt in the water.
  2. Add the Vinegar
  3. Put layer of dill seed heads and garlic clovers in the bottom of a gallon glass jar.
  4. Place freshly picked cukes on top of dill.
  5. Add another layer of dill seed heads, garlic and more cukes until the jar is ¾ full.
  6. Fill the jar to the top with the vinegar mixture.
  7. Add peppercorns.
  8. Add onions.
  9. Close the jar and refrigerate for 5 to 7 days.

These will stay crunchy and keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks!  And they are one of my very favorite ways to enjoy my cucumber harvest.

Next week, beans…green and otherwise!

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