Concurring Cucumber Beetles – Organically

Had a client ask me yesterday about Cucumber Beetles so thought I’d write up this post so you can all benefit form the information too.

I admit, of all the bug type critters I have dealt with in my gardening endeavors, these little buggers have been the hardest to deal with and some of the most prolific. I also admit, I have stopped growing cucumbers because of them.   With those caveats, let look at why these critters are such a challenge.

First, there are two types, striped (Acalymma vittatum/A. trivittatum) and spotted (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi Barber).  This can be confusing, with some folks thinking they are dealing with something other than cucumber beetles.  So, yes, both of these are cucumber beetles:

Spotted and striped cucubmer beetles.

Cucumber beetles attack, yes, cucumbers, but also other members of the Cucurbit plant family that includes summer squash (and zucchini), winter squash and melons.  I have also found that they love, I mean LOVE, Amaranth, both the ornamental and grain type, so we strictly avoid growing all types of Amaranth.  They will really love to eat your Cleome, so we have stopped growing those beauties as well.  They have also been known to munch on beets, beans, peas, sweet potatoes, okra, corn, lettuce, onions, and various cabbages although, gratefully, I have not had them go for these other crops.

These little critters do munch on your plant leaves, but the main issues is that they transmit bacteria that cause Fusarium or Bacterial Wilt and this is what will often kill the plant first.  Adult cucumber beetles can severely defoliate plants and scar fruit. Adults generally reach their peak activity in morning and late afternoon and are fast and pretty hard to catch.  If you do catch them, they have very hard shells so are hard to squish. Don’t try and put them down to step on them like you might a worm, as they’ll fly before you can get them.  If you are able to catch them, put them in soapy water.  All that said, this is not the best way to deal with them.

Cucumber beetle damage

As with handling any pest predation, a good Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy that includes more than one option works best. All the products on this list are OMRI rated for organic use. Not sure what that means, check out this video.

Ways to concur cucumber beetles:

  1. Row cover or growing in completely protected culture in a high tunnel or greenhouse.  I recommend this at the beginning of the season to give your plants a good head start. This client, Kathleen, did this and I am sure this is why her plants have done as well as they have. She also used..
  2. Neem oil spray. Neem can be effective here as it is a wide spectrum killer.  It is also effective against fungal diseases, which is an added benefit. When sprayed on garden plants, it does not leave a lasting residue because it washes away with rain and is broken down by ultraviolet rays. It can kill some beneficial bugs if they are directly sprayed. Most of Neem’s action is from critters biting leaves that have been sprayed with it. Your beneficial insects are carnivores, eating those other bugs who are eating your food.  
  3. Kaolin Clay, or Surround. We love this stuff and use it often. The product name is Surround, which is made from a specially modified Kaolin clay. This forms a barrier that protects plants from many pests. We spray it on and it makes a white barrier not only repels bugs, but causes them irritation, confusion, and is an obstacle for feeding and egg-laying. We have found it very effective against deer too!  The deer look at those ‘white plants’ and don’t think are food.  Like the Neem, you have to keep applying it after rains and as new green growth appears.
  4. Cleaning up. Cucumber beetles will overwinter eggs in the mulch under your plants.  If you have had an infestation, remove all the mulch from the area and don’t even compost it.  Dispose of it off property or burn it, depending on your location. Then you can apply ..
  5. A spray containing Spinosad, like Monterey Garden Insect Spray used to drenchto the soil tokill the larvae before they pupate in the soil can be effective to avoid further infestation in following seasons.  I should mention here, I only see these critters in the warm summer months.
  6. Beneficial insects. Ladybugs, Green Lacewing, Spined Soldier Bugs and Assassin Bugs will all feed on various life stages of cucumber beetles. Attracting and keeping these garden helpers in your garden will not only help keep the cucumber beetle population down, but many other less desirables from eating your food. A few good plants to start with are: yarrow, sunflowers, dill, cilantro and parsley. Makes sure you let the dill, cilantro and parsley go to flower.  
Assassan bug eating a spotted cucumber beetle

7. You can also buy cucumber beetle lures and use these with yellow sticky traps. The lure is effective for 45 days. If the trap becomes covered with insects or other debris before that time, remove the lure and attach it to a fresh trap. One advantage is that these are not a spray and therefore you run less risk of killing other critters you would rather not kill. I confess I have not tried these although it seems a reasonable thing to try and I might get some for the cucumber beetle population currently in my garden. If anyone uses these, let me know how they worked for you.

8. The last option in this article is adding a Heterorhabditis bacteriophora beneficial nematodes to your soil. Nematodes occur naturally in our soil, but we might not have the ones that really like beetle, and specifically cucumber beetle larvae.

So to wrap up, here is my recommended IMP strategy if you have a cucumber beetle infestation:

  1. Spray Neem to get the population down.
  2. Put out lures and traps for adults you have missed or that continue to hatch.
  3. Depending on how diseased and chewed up your plants are, remove them off site or burn them.
  4. Remove all the mulch under where the plants were and spray Monterey Garden Spray heavily into the soil.

Next spring:

  1. Apply beneficial nematodes to your soil.
  2. Use row covers for young plants.
  3. Apply Surround as your plants grow.
  4. Put in plants that attract beneficial insects.

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Have an awesome day and good luck with those cuke beetles! – Debby

Mix it up! Companion Plant your Annual Vegetable Garden

Make the most of your garden space by mixing flowers and herbs with your annual vegetables.

Backyard Foodscape
Backyard Foodscape incorporates flowers and herbs along with vegetables.

Pairing the right plants together, those that gardeners have observed grow well together, allows plants to do some of your garden work for you. This accomplishes several functions as we can see…

One classic example showing some ways plants work together is the native American corn/beans/squash combination:

Poll beans climb up the corn stalk, so the corn is the support, or trellis, for the bean.  So the corn just saved you from building a pole bean trellis. The bean is a member of the legume family of plants. This plant family are what are called ‘nitrogen fixers’, which means they capture nitrogen and store it in nodules on their roots, making it available for other plants to take it in. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder, so in exchange for the support the corn gives the beans, the beans feed the corn. The beans just saved you from having to add something to feed your corn. The squash plants wind all around the base of the corn and beans, providing them shade cover to keep moisture in the soil longer for all of them. The squash just saved you from watering as much or putting down mulch to hold moisture in the soil.  A couple nice additions to this already cool combo are:

  • Sunflowers in the mix to also support beans and provide seeds for humans and birds.
  • Nasturtiums attract a ‘beneficial bug’ called hoverflies.  Beneficial bugs are so named because they prey on other bugs that like to eat your food, although, in a diverse ecosystem, all bugs are beneficial to maintain balance. Hoverflies like to eat bugs like aphids and thrips.  Nasturtiums repel loads of critters who want to eat your crops including: cabbage loppers, worms and weevils; squash, cucumber and bean beetles and more.  In addition, the leaves and flowers are edible!

Companion planting is a good way to design your garden beds. See what plants go together and plant in those combinations. Start with simple combinations and then get more complex over time. Good places to start are:

  • tomatoes/lettuce/onions/marigolds/parsley
  • peppers/basil/marigolds/chamomile
  • peas/carrots/lettuce
  • bush beans/potatoes/flax
  • cucumbers/radishes/nasturtiums/dill

Squash & Nasturtiums. Nasturtiums are good companions for not only cucumbers, but also squash and melons.

Another reason to use companion planting is it makes a beautiful garden, as these photos show, and remember, beauty is food too!

Container gardeners, you can do this too!  The same combinations apply, either in the same container, or containers that are next to each other.

I’ll write more companion planting, so check back.

5 Garden Design Tips

using companion planted garden design
Using Companion Planted Garden Designs is easy !

Fall & Winter is the best time to do your garden planning.

Many gardeners just do the same thing they have always done, planting in rows, or adding the same plants to their container garden.

Here are 5 tips to help you get more from your garden:

  1. Plan out our garden spaces before you buy seed or plants to maximize your investment
  2. Learn what plants grow well together to avoid stressed or weakened plants
  3. Get professional tips on growing the plants you like to grow to boost your garden’s productivity
  4. Find out what varieties garden experts recommend to increase your success
  5. Start with quality organic seeds and plants from trusted sources

Want all that in one place  ? … check out our new Companion Planted Garden Designs at the Prior Unity Garden Store

Companion & Follow-on Planting for Containers

Companion planting in containers works the same way as companion planting in your garden bed.  Plants are grown together or in proximity to each other so they can provide different benefits to each other.

Follow-on planting is choosing certain plants to be planted in the same space or very close to each other through the seasons.

Companion planted container garden in mid spring.
Companion planted container garden in mid spring.

In this photo there are two types of kale and one type of broccoli that were planted last fall.  In early spring the lettuce was planted.  Most of the lettuce was harvested by the time this photo was taken, althoguht one is in the right container.  Other kales had been harvested to plant the lettuce.  By harvesting the lettuce we made room to plant tomato seedlings, so …..

  • Fall planted kale – harvested in late winter and into spring made room for
  • Spring planted lettuce (and there were radishes too) which, when harvested made room for
  • Spring planted tomato seedlings
  • Once all kale and broccoli is harvested, put a few scallions, a basil, a marigold or more lettuce around your tomato
  • As your summer crops die back, are harvested or are no longer productive – plant kale again and start over !

Companion Planting – What Gets Along with Cabbage?

Plants have organic material that has an impact on other plants and insects. There may be substances in the root that effects the soil for the other plants or in the flowers that attracts/repels certain insects.  Companion planting is a holistic and natural approach to gardening. There are resources to help you know what to pair with every plant, and this blog is focussed specifically on friends of cabbage.

We have identified 5 tips for knowing what to pair with cabbage:

  • Cabbage neighbors should be onions, potatoes, nasturtiums and aromatic herbs
  • Aromatic herbs, such as dill, chamomile, sage, thyme, mint, pennyroyal, rosemary, and lavender will help repel cabbage worms/butterflies
  •  Plant Mint: The odoriferous members of this family, especially catnip, help to repel aphids and cabbage pests. Be advised that certain mints can grow out of control and take over a garden space. To make sure you do not start a new problem by fixing an old one, you can grow mints in containers and place around your garden.  We do this for many herbs so they can be workhorses anywhere in the garden we need them.
  • You can also plant with other braccicas (collards, kale, cauliflower, etc.) as they all get along well. If you do plant these together, we recommend starting them under row covers to help prevent attracting cabbage butterflies and other bugs who like this family of plants.
  • Bad neighbors for cabbage are:  strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, rue, grapes, lettuce, and pole beans.

 

Nasturtiums & Cucurbitaceae

Trailing Nasturiums

Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seed and a great addition to any garden because they have multiple functions of food, flower & pest control.

Food: Both flowers and leaves are edible, great to pick as you move through your garden and to add to salads or anywhere you’d like a beautiful to look at spicy taste addition.

Flowers: They have cool orchid looking flowers in cream, yellows, oranges, reds, mahogany and salmon.   Some are trailing and some are upright, so use whichever suits your site, purpose and aesthetic.

Pest Control:  They repel white flies, so plant them anywhere our hot humid summers may bring white flies to your garden.   Nasturtiums also repel squash bugs, so plant them with members of the cucubritaceae family – what’s that ? .. plant with your cucumbers, melons & squash.

They can ramble among your wandering squash and melons, up a pole with your cucumbers, or put in a pot and moved around the garden where ever you need them.   You can also use them as a trap crop for ants.

 

Planting your Autumn Hoop House

If you have a small hoop house, about 10 x 5′, plant a row of Broccoli or Cauliflower down the middle, then you can plant kales, chards, spinach or arugula around them and put fast growing roots; such as Seeds of Change “Champion” radish or Botanical Interests “Little Finger” carrots,   in between.   As you thin, harvest roots, and your cut and come-again greens, you’ll be working closer to the edge of bed.  Your broccoli and cauliflower will have room to grow tall in the middle and if the growing is good  you may want to thin some lower leaves.

hoophouse2junesmall