I have an idea, a vision, a dream of how my garden should grow and look and produce. Sometimes there is a large divide between the reality I see and my dream. Often I plant something, and I have an image of how it will look when it is mature. Then nutrient poor soil, imperfect irrigation, or pests shatter my vision of what should be.
This happened just last summer when I planted cucumbers at the base of a trellis. I could see in my mind’s eye the vibrant plants climbing and climbing the trellis with large dark green cucumbers hanging down for the picking.
What did I get? All I saw in the end was a plague of striped cucumber beetles chomping on the last two surviving anemic cucumber plants. I plucked and squished beetles like crazy. I stalked them in the cool of the morning and blasted them with Safer Soap, but to no avail. I only managed to harvest two or three scarred cucumbers. The return on my investment of time and energy was not good. The beetles won the battle.
Who is the culprit?
There are several species of cucumber beetle. They are of the striped or spotted variety. I had the western striped cucumber beetles (Acalymma trivittatum) causing all the havoc, however I did see a few of the spotted cucumber beetles (Diabrotica undecimpuncata) as well. These beetles are fond of any vegetables in the Cucurbit family which includes cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins, and gourds.
This spring I am researching how to make a comeback. How am I going to grow cucumber, squash, and pumpkins if the striped cucumber beetles return in force?. I learned that there is a three part punch to the cucumber beetle plague.
Their 3 Pronged Devastation
The first assault is the adult beetles eating the leaves of the cucumber plant and sucking the juices out of the stems. They are particularly fond of the flowers. The adults overwinter in garden debris, woods, and other low vegetation. They come out in the spring as temperatures begin to warm.
Second, the adults lay eggs in the soil at the base of the plant and the larvae hatch and then burrow into the soil to munch on the roots of the plants. The larvae then pupate in the soil and hatch a new generation of adults to repeat the cycle.
Third, to add insult to injury, the adult beetles can spread bacterial wilt and cucumber mosaic virus through contaminated mouth parts and feces. The symptoms of this disease initially leave a plant looking as if it needs a good watering. Then the leaves and vines wither and shrivel up.
Here is my plan. I planted my cucumbers in a raised bed at the base of a trellis. I made four of these trellises years ago from 2×4 lumber and wire fencing.
I covered the trellis with light weight garden cloth. It took me about 45 minutes to cut and secure the garden cloth. I stapled the cloth to the wood where possible and then safety pinned the sections of cloth around the support wires of the trellis. If the physical barriers are successful in thwarting the adults beetles and larvae, there should be no damage from the bacterial wilt and cucumber mosaic virus.
I planted cucumber seedlings within the covered trellis and seeds at the base of the uncovered trellis. I am hoping I do not have as many cucumber beetles this year. I will cover the second trellis with garden cloth as the seeds sprout , if I see many cucumber beetles around. I would like to take the garden cloth off as soon as possible because it will be an extra hassle to work around and pollinators will need access to the flowers.
Here is a last look at my cucumber seedlings before I tucked them in.
My fingers are crossed that I will never see as many cucumber beetles as last year. However, if they do show up in droves, I want to have a plan.
There are other organic ways to help control cucumber beetles such as…
- Hand picking or vacuuming the beetles (best in morning)
- Companion planting with radishes or beans
- Delayed planting (cucumber beetles tend to be more prevalent early)
- Heavy mulching
- Spraying beetles directly with Safer Soap
Update: July 9, 2014
My cucumbers are very happy in their tent. However, I did not see any striped cucumber beetles this year (fingers crossed). I will take the cloth off today because the cucumbers are starting to bloom and need pollination. I am optimistic I will be eating cucumber salad soon.
I would love to hear what has worked for you to control cucumber beetles.
Please leave a comment.