Tag Archives: cucumber beetle

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.


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

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


  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!


Grow So Easy Organic: How To Grow Great Green Cucumbers

One of my favorite, childhood memories is eating cool crisp cucumber slices on homemade bread slathered with mayonnaise.  My mom could raise just about anything but she really got a ton of cucumbers out of the dozen or so plants she put in the ground every spring.

Cucumber Flowers

Cucumber plants early in the growing season

When Mom was gardening (way back in the 50’s and 60’s), there wasn’t a slew of choices when it came to what you put in the ground.  Cucumbers were cucumbers.  Today, there are a whole lot of varieties that you might want to try.

Like tomatoes, cucumbers come in two varieties – hybrid and heirloom.  There are three general categories or types of cucumbers, too, slicing, pickling and  burpless.

I’m an equal opportunity cucumber person.  I grow and eat them all.  But if you’ve got a yen for a certain type of cuke or a bit less space than you’d like, it helps to know just how big the plants will get and what type of cucumber you will harvesting.

Let’s start with the ones that most people buy in the grocery store, the long green slicing cukes.  There are a couple of varieties that have gained popularity in the last few years.

Slicing Cucumbers
Burpless Cucumbers – burpless cukes are, according to researchers in the Department of Horticultural Research at North Carolina State University, actually Oriental Trellis cucumbers.  And they are a little less bitter and a little less prone to cause burping.  Whatever you call them, these sweeter, long hybrids grow well on trellises and are a nice addition to any garden.  But remember, this is a hybrid so seed-saving may not work.

Marketmore 76 & Marketmore 80 – this cuke likes to have a trellis to climb, too.  I use an old box spring for my cukes.  Like the burpless cucumber, Marketmore cukes are dark green and straight (unless they grow through a bit of the bedspring) and quite tasty.  And, they’re disease resistant, too.

Straight 8 –  another dark green, cuke that grows long and straight (hence its name) is a wonderful slicing cucumber.  It’s crisp flesh and mild flavor make it a favorite for cucumber salads and sandwiches.  Straight 8 is an heirloom so you can save its seeds.  Once most of your harvest is in, leave a cucumber on the vine and let it turn yellow.  Pick it, scoop out the seeds, clean them off then dry them, thoroughly.  Refrigerate and use next year.

Cukes for Limited Spaces
If you don’t have a lot of space to garden in or you’re working with container gardening, you can try a couple of the bush cucumbers.  They’ll still give you long, green slicing cukes but they’ll take up much less real estate doing it.

Bush Crop – these plants are ideal for small gardens or containers.  The Bush cucumber produces the same size cukes as it’s bigger brothers – 8 to 12 inch long – but it does it on a dwarf, mound-shaped plant.  There are no runners, either.

Fanfare is a hybrid but oh what a cucumber it is.  It’s got it all, great taste; high yield, extended harvest and disease resistant, the Fanfare produces fruit on compact vines.  It’s a great choice for someone with small gardening space or the container gardener.  The cuke is slim, dark green and grows to 8 to 9 inches long.  And it has a wonderful, sweet cucumber taste.

Salad Bush is another hybrid but it matures in just 57 days.  This tomato plant only grows that are 18 inches long but it still produces beautiful straight, 6 –plus inch long, dark green cukes. The seed is a bit expensive but if you’re garden space is small or your raising cukes in pots, this may be the one you want to try.  Direct seed the Salad Bus and sit back and wait for your beautiful, compact bush to produce beautiful, flavorful cucumbers for your table.

Pickling Cukes
Pickling cucumbers are smaller, have more spines and hold up to brining better than slicing pickles.  But I think of the pickling cuke as a “two fer.”  You can pickle them; you can also slice them and eat them right off the vine!  Here are a couple that you might want to consider but don’t limit yourself to just these varieties.

The Bush Pickle is fast to harvest – producing fruit in just 48 days.  It’s another compact plant so it’s good for container growing – no need for trellises or stakes! The Bush Pickle may be small but it produces a good-sized crop while taking up just 3 to 4 feet of space. The fruit is about 4 inches long, light to mid-green, with a crisp, tender flavor – perfect for pickles!

Carolina (Hybrid  matures just one day after the Bush Pickle, taking 49 days to produce its straight, blocky fruit.  The Carolina has medium-sized vines so you may want to trellis the plants.  Vigorous, with great yields, the Carolina produces medium green fruit that are generally about 3 inches long and a bit blocky.  The Carolina comes with spines, too and makes a great dill pickle.

Tips on Planting
Cucumbers are usually started from seed.  Like their relatives, squash and melons, cucumbers like warm soil so only plant them after all danger of frost is past.  In fact, I don’t plant my cukes until almost the end of May.  They have to have warm soil and planting them early just means the seed may not germinate.  Or if they do, growth will be slow and the plants will be small.

So, wait for the warm soil and warm air before putting cuke seeds in the ground.  The same is true for transplants.  But transplanting cucumbers is a bit tricky.

“Cucumbers resent transplanting.”  I laughed out loud when I read that sentence in Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden: Creative Gardening for the Adventurous Cook.

Then I transplanted some by pulling them out of their little plastic pots and shoving them in the ground.  Needless to say the seeds I planted in the ground on the same day grew a whole lot faster than the transplants.

Apparently, cukes have lots of little tendrils  – small branches off the central root that uptake water and nutrients and feed the plants.  Harsh transplanting damages the branches and the plant may not recover, at all.

Mine didn’t.

But since I like to have a jump on the growing season, I have worked out a way to do the least damage to the baby cuke plants while giving them about a 6 week jump on being put out in the ground.

I start seeds indoors in mid-March (Zone 5 ½) and once they get their true second set of leaves I simply place the 2 inch peat pot into a 4 inch peat pot and cover with soil.  No transplant blues, no disruption and by mid-May, when these babies hit the dirt, they are tall, healthy and frequently covered with blooms

NOTE:  when transplanting into the garden, do NOT remove from the peat pot.  Just dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the 4 inch peat pot, place the whole pot in the ground and cover with soil.

Make sure you cover the top of the peat pot with soil or, just tear the first inch or so of the top of the pot.  If you don’t, the wind will blow on the top of the peat pot and wick moisture right off the plant.

If you’re using seeds, you can put a single seed in the soil about every 12 inches and cover them with ½” to 1” of soil.  Or you can create a small “hill” of soil and put 3 or 4 seeds in each hill and cover with 1/2 to 1 inch of soil and water them, gently.  NOTE:  you MUST water these seeds daily.  If they dry out in the act of sprouting, they die.

If using the hill method. Leave 24” to 30” between each hill to give the plants a chance to grow without being crowded.  If you’re using transplants, plant them in warm soil about 12 inches apart.

I usually put transplants on one side of the trellis I use for cukes (actually an antique bed spring I found by the side of the road) and put seeds in on the other side.  This ensures that I have a longer picking season and, if I lose a plant or two to cucumber beetles, I have others to replace it.

By the way, unless you live in Maine or Canada, you can do a second planting for fall harvest by planting seeds in mid- to late summer.

Make sure you water cucumbers frequently.  They have shallow roots and have to have moisture, especially when they are setting and maturing fruit.  Try to use soaker hoses for cukes, too.

Cucumbers also like mulch – something that keeps the soil warm in early spring. And floating row covers can help keep your baby cucumbers warm, too.    Once the cucumber transplants have settled into their new home, you can side-dress with nitrogen fertilizer when the plants begin to vine.

Be careful not to handle cucumber plants when they are wet as you can transmit diseases from plant to plant that way.  I only harvest in the afternoon, after the sun has dried off the leaves, top and bottom.

Next week, how to find and destroy the bugs that bug cukes and my favorite refrigerator pickle recipe

Organic Gardening Made Easy – How To Control Bugs Without Pesticides – Part II WMD

If you’re a gardener, killing is in the cards.

If you’re an organic gardener, you will kill, too. But you won’t kill indiscriminately.  Your Weapons Of Mass Destruction (WMD) will be kind to you and your family and kind to the environment.  WARNING: THIS IS A LONG POST…but worth the read.  Oh and some of the ideas are gruesome…but they work.

Insecticidal Soap
Let’s start with an easy weapon you’ve heard about before – insecticidal soap.

Insecticidal soap is a good way to try to control pests before they get a foothold.  You can use dishwashing liquid for your base because it is mild and, used in small quantities, won’t damage the plants.

The soap enhances the ability of the other additives to stick to the leaves of the plant for a bit longer. Soap also dehydrates the bug’s cell membranes and speeds their trip to bug heaven. One word of caution, don’t use too much soap.  If you do, you could kill your plants right along with the bugs.

RECIPE:  Home Brewed Insecticidal Soap
Here’s a base recipe for making insecticidal soap that may discourage your pests including the cucumber beetle.

6 cloves of garlic
1 large onion
1 to 2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes or 1 to 2 tablespoons of powdered cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dishwashing soap
1 gallon water

Put the garlic, onion and pepper in a blender or food processor and liquefy.
Steep these ingredients for an hour.
Strain through cheesecloth.
Stir the blended mixture into a gallon of hot water.
Stir in the dishwashing liquid.
Cover and let it stand for two days so the bits of garlic, onion or pepper flakes settle to the bottom.

Strain again, stopping about an inch from the bottom to keep the bits of garlic or pepper flakes on the bottom of the jar from flowing into the newly strained liquid.

Pour the liquid into a spray bottle and spray affected plants thoroughly to discourage bad bugs!

WMD In The War on Bugs
Like any good general who goes to war, you can’t just rely on one weapon.  There are a few more that really took me a couple of years to come to grips with.

Before gardening, I was a wimp.  If a bug of any variety crossed my path, I drew myself up to my full 64 inch height, screamed and ran.  Oh, yes I did.

Then I became an organic gardener.  Bugs moved from the nuisance category to sworn  enemy.  And my arsenal expanded to include some pretty weird (and previously unthinkable) weapons.

Rocks are a favorite.  They’re cheap and readily available.  And they’re effective.  Just hold a rock on either side of a squash leaf that’s harboring stink bugs and bring them down quickly, bashing the brains out of the vine borer before it lays eggs or pokes holes in your squash, cuke or pumpkin stems.

Oh, and make sure you check the bottoms of the leaves of your zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers and pumpkins for eggs.  Once you see a stinkbug you can be sure you have a little batch of bright orange eggs stashed somewhere on the plant.  Find them, crush them and move on.

Hands do the job with a bit more finesse than rocks.  Okay, it’s a bit gross to grab a bug and squash it with your bare hands.  But smaller beetles like cucumber, asparagus and Mexican bean beetles are much more agile than stink bugs so rocks rarely work.

NOTE:  be prepared to spend a bit of time every afternoon or evening catching and crushing these beetles.    I used to come home from the office, change and go out and vent all the pent up hostility of handling my staff, my peers and my bosses by crushing as many bugs as I could find.

Finding these winged pests and their crawling, larval offspring means taking the time to shake each plant.  When they fly up and land again, squash them between thumb and forefinger while perhaps reciting the litany of crimes your co-workers have committed and the punishment you are meting out.

Be methodical.  Flip the leaves of every plant over to look for larva and eggs.  This is especially important for Mexican bean beetles.  “Where there’s one,” my Mom used to say, “There are a million.”  So be ruthless.  Think sheer volume and crush away.

Slotted Spoon & A Pot of Water
There are some bugs I just will not tackle, bare-handed.  When the Japanese beetles and their cousins, the Asian beetle and the Green Fruit beetle (looks like a Japanese beetle on steroids) come calling, I break out my slotted spoon and a pot of cold water.  Weird weapons of choice for dealing with flying beetles that can hook to your clothes and get caught in your hair but, believe me, they work.

There’s just one trick.  You have to go out to the infested plants early in the morning, as dawn breaks and before the sun begins to warm the air.  These beetles are heavy sleepers and don’t start stirring until the sun is up.  So it’s really easy to whack them into the pot of water with the spoon and wait for them to drown.  Or if you’ve got chickens, set the pot in the coop and stand back.  It will look like a Japanese horror movie as the chickens move in to eat their fill.

Sifter and flour
This is a trick my Mom taught me.  She raised a lot of cole crops – cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts.  And these plants were really plagued by things like the codling moth.  Well, Mom showed me how to use morning dew, white flour and a sifter to turn the moths and their larvae into – well, how can I say this – papier mache bugs.

The flour and water mixed together to create a paste that baked in the sun and froze this insect enemy into tiny sculptures that could no longer chew their way through my plants.  By the way, this also works for flea beetles.

Chili Powder
Here’s another ingredient from the kitchen that works, all on its own, to help control roly-polies, earwigs, and some of our other not-so-welcome bugs.  And it’s simple and cheap (my favorite combination).  Sprinkle chili powder under targeted plants. It doesn’t hurt the plants but it sure does make the creepy crawlies take off and never come back.

Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a blessing for any gardener plagued by slugs.  And if you plant tender lettuce and young pepper plants, you will probably have slugs coming over for dinner every night.  Like the trick for killing codling moths, I tend to put the diatomaceous earth in the flour sifter and sift it gently over the affected plants but don’t inhale it. It can hurt you, too.

I also use a spoon to lay down little circles of diatomaceous earth around the stems of my plants and around the outside of the lettuce plants.  Diatomaceous earth is made of the sharp, jagged skeletal remains of microscopic creatures. It acts like finely ground glass and lacerates soft-bodied slugs causing them to dehydrate. 

I don’t want to be sexist here and I was going to write grandchildren but I just could not get my granddaughter engaged in this particular game.  I paid my grandsons cash on the barrel head for Japanese beetle bodies.  And they earned a considerable amount of money some years by just banging the beetles into a pot or crushing them with rocks.

Some of the tactics seem downright cruel but, remember, this is war!

Closing Thoughts on Controlling Bugs
There will be days when you are on the battlefield, armed with your weapon of choice and you’ll still feel a bit like David to the insect kingdom’s Goliath.

Take heart and smash, bash, drown and pick until you’ve cut into the insect front line troops.  And remember that resisting a quick squirt of pesticide means knowing that your food will not kill you, your family or your friends.

Got any weird or wonderful ways to control bugs, organically?  Please share them!  Next week, composting successfully.  Composting always sounded like it required a lot of work and a pretty good dose of luck. I’ll show you just how easy it can be.

Organic Gardening Made Easy – How To Control Bugs Without Pesticides – Part I

It’s so very easy to reach for the spray or the powder and just pour it on your plants.  It’s so easy until you start reading labels and headlines about just what these various products do to you, to your family, your soil, your water and your neighbors.

Why not use chemicals?  Everybody else is.

Here’s the bottom line.  Before you unleash the myriad of products that will kill these pests, consider this.  While you are killing the bugs, you are also feeding your crops poison.  And it’s poison that can’t be washed off.

Root crops like potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes and fruit like apples, strawberries and peaches absorb and retain pesticides.  Even spinach isn’t safe in this chemical world.  Why?

When you eat these supposedly healthy foods, you are eating all the pesticides that come along for the ride and there are literally dozens of them as well as  growth retardants and fungus inhibitors.

How To Stop Using Pesticides
It’s really very simple.  Just say, “NO.” to using any herbicide or pesticide at all in your organic garden.

Yep, that’s it.  The answer is not to fall under the spell of easy and fast because these products are also deadly.   But the question still remains:  how do you control bugs without pesticides?

You may not like the answer because this bit of organic gardening will add time and tasks to your life. And you’ll also have to get a bit ruthless.  But don’t be seduced by products like Sevin, another “fast, easy” that some gardeners will tell you is okay to use.  It kills without discretion.

Sevin works but it also kills beneficials at the same time it kills pests.  And it is considered toxic to humans.  It is part of the Carbaryl family – N-methyl carbamate – and it can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, sweating and, in serious cases, pulmonary edema.  In other words, it just isn’t good for us or for our plants.

So, how does an organic gardener manage the pesky pests that will be in the garden and will do damage?  Here’s a hint; the title of this chapter should read how to get up your courage and get revenge.

How To Handle Being Bugged
First of all, know your enemy.  This means the good, the bad and the ugly.  I learned this after having killed a number of caterpillars eating my dill only to find out they were Monarch butterflies in larval stage.

You really will need a resource to help you figure out just what’s chowing down in your garden and whether or not to crush it, drown it, or boil it.  Remember the bug book I said I invested in?  It has saved the lives of countless thousands of good bugs and helped me identify and kill the bad ones.

Knowing what could be doing damage to your produce gives you a leg up on handling it.  Here’s my list of least favorite and most hated insect enemies.  They will probably end up on the top 10 list of anyone who grows anything, anywhere.

Ten Most Wanted Bugs
By the way, my top 10, most wanted (dirty, rotten, chewing, egg laying) bugs, are in order of how much I hate them:

  1. Colorado potato beetles
  2. Japanese beetles
  3. Asian beetles
  4. Cucumber beetles
  5. Mexican bean beetles
  6. Asparagus beetles
  7. Tomato horn worms (finally something not ending with beetle)
  8. Stink bugs
  9. Slugs
  10. Bag worms

Non-toxic Weapons of Mass Destruction
Handling each of these pests begins with putting healthy plants in the ground.  Healthy plants are more able to withstand an attack and less likely to keel over and die.

You can also put in some “sacrificial” plants, ones that will lure the marching army of pests to a spot that is not part of your garden.

Second on the list of non-toxic tactics is learn to use floating row covers to keep insects out but let light and moisture still get to your plants.  Most of the row covers on the market today are spun polyester. They are so light that you don’t need to buy hoops to hold them up.

You can get them in different weights but most backyard gardeners don’t need to use heavier stock.  And floating row covers can be used over and over again so you only have to invest in them once (or twice if you’re a lifelong gardener).

Next week:  A list of weapons (including my kluged recipe for handmade insecticidal soap with a kick) that will help you win the war on bugs without the  broad-based killing of the good bugs and without poisoning yourself or your loved ones.