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

Build Your Own Seed Starting Rack

Hi folks, I friend messaged me this week asking if I could recommend a seed starting rack.  She is in Wisconsin, so getting started now with her seed starting.

I confess I have little experience with pre-made seed starting racks and systems. I have been gifted with one, but I don’t like it as well as the one my sweetheart made.

Here is the Materials List:

  • Found plywood, 2×2, 2×4
  • Shop lights
  • Chain
  • Hooks
  • Screws
  • Wire
  • Switch box/s
  • Timer
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General process to build your own seed starting rack:

  1. Decide where you want to put your rack. It is best if you can place it in front of a window that gets good light as this will enhance the productivity of your rack.  I can also say, it is really nice if you can place it in a permanent location.  Ours was built with screws so it can be taken down an reassembled, but frankly, since I am four season gardening, I just keep it up.
  2. Consider how much space you need for seed starting. Small scale home gardeners may not need much. My rack holds 14 seed trays and that is not enough for all I grow.  Most folks can get away with one bank of lights which will cover two to four standard sized seed trays.  A double bank will give you space for four or five seed trays.
  3. I prefer to use found wood instead of buying new since so much is thrown out these days. We used wood found in a dumpster in back of a store, and some left over from a job.
  4. Build the thing. It can be as simple or complicated as you make it. I have the advantage of having a partner who is a contractor, so he built and wired switches for me.

The best way to show you how we build it is in photos .. so here you go …

DYI Seed Starting Rack
My homemade three tired seed starting rack – front view.  The rack has three shelves and uses old shop lights. We found some of these in the trash, some were from a friend who was getting rid of them.  Each shelf has two banks of two lights.  I use old fashioned ones to have the heat for summer seedlings.  One cool and one warm in each bank which is less expensive than “grow lights”.

make your own seed starting rack
Outside corner of the rack.

build a place to start seeds
Inside corner.

seed rack height
We used hooks and chain, attached to a bar on the outside of each shop light to raise and lower the lights to accommodate different height plants.

put your seed rack next to a window for more light
Inside where the chain is attached to the rack.

The top bank we just had lights so made a really simple holder.

grow plants from seed
The top bank we hung from the ceiling.

Wiring for switches. We have a switch on each side so we can turn on one set of lights on each bank. This allows us to put the trays in either direction for growth or saving electricity if we don’t need both sets of lights at once in a bank.

how to start seedlings
Bottom who shelves filled. I will sometimes put trays on top of the lights until they germinate to make more room, as in this picture.

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Great Garden Soil

Hi folks,

a raised bed is one choice for your veggie garden
Building awesome living soil in a raised veggie bed

I’ve had several clients and new students ask about garden soil.  It seems many folks that have tried to garden have wanted to quit because their garden didn’t do well.  Most times it turns out it was their soil that was at issue.

Soil is the foundation of our garden and can grow our plants for us.  I have put together a 5 Day Free email course on soil, so you can transform your understanding of good garden soil, to begin to transform your garden.

 

Yes – I want the Free Email Soil Course

5 Proven Steps to Starting Your Veggie Garden

As spring approaches, our thoughts go to gardening. Enjoy this snapshot of my solid step-by-step strategy to start a veggie garden.

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Step 1: Your Garden Dream, Vision & Goals

Basket of home grown tomatoes
Basket of home grown tomatoes

For Step 1: it is important to take time to document your garden vision, what goals you have, and your garden as you have dreamed it.  Many folks don’t take the time to document this, so their dream garden becomes a vaporous ‘some day’ vague memory, vs actualizing the manifestation of their dream.

Step 2: Observation & Assessment

To avoid making a mistake on the type, size and location of the garden you put in, take some time to observe your space, light, water and other resources as well as your time. This way you can be sure the garden you put in not only is in the best place, but also fits into your lifestyle, and that is where Step 2, Observation & Assessment comes in.  This is a critical step to be sure you get a garden that will work for you, and hence move you along that success pathway.

Step 3: Building Healthy Living Soil

a raised bed is one choice for your veggie garden
Building awesome living soil in a raised veggie bed

Healthy living soil is the foundation of any garden, so building soil that will support your garden and grow plants for you is Step 3. You probably know that chemical pesticides and fertilizers kill your soil, but did you know that tilling does too?  Tilling allows the carbon in your soil to be released into the atmosphere thereby depleting your soil of it.  This is why commercial conventional growers add fertilizers, because they have, by their actions, depleted it from their soil. The soil becomes nothing more than an anchor for the plants, but it is the life in the soil, that grows healthy lively plants.

Step 4: Choosing Quality Plants & Seeds

locally grown veggie plants
Get chemical-free plants

Step 4 is choosing quality plants and seeds for your garden.  Learn clues for buying plants, such as purchasing those with a USDA Organic tag or from small local growers you know are chemical free.  Checking in on seed companies to be sure they have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, thereby committing to only offering non-GMO seeds, and belonging to organizations committed to organic growing and sustainable biodiverse practices.

Step 5: Garden Layout & Planting

learn garden layout
Organic veggie & flower garden

Then, in the last step, it is time to layout where plants will go in our gardens and do our seeding and transplanting. Once you have done the other four steps, you can be confident that the garden you have built is the right one for you so those young plants and seedlings have the best chance of providing you the yummy home grown produce you desire.

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Debby’s Top 5 Round Red Tomato Varieties

tasting different tomato varitieties we grew
Tomato Tasting Tray. One thing we sometimes to for dinner at Prior Unity Garden is the tomato tasting tray, where we just try all the different kinds of tomatoes from the garden. Here is a tray with over 15 varieties – Yum !

Okay, so pretty much everybody loves to grow tomatoes, and even if some of us like the funky colors and shapes, I find that loads of gardeners keep asking me for ‘round red tomatoes’.

The main reason for growing these is because they taste good.

So, here goes with my top picks and note of why they are on my list…

  • Old Virginia – Here in Virginia, or anywhere you have hot, humid summers, this one is the one grow.
  • Old Brooks – it just tastes so darn good, with my preferred acid/sweet balance, a bit on the old fashioned acid side
  • Thessaloniki – the dependable tomato for drought or dry conditions, amazingly so!
  • Siletz – the only determinate on the list that I have grown for 30 years. Great for salsa.
  • Carmelo (F1) – the only hybrid on the list because it performs so well and tastes so smooth and rich

Hope this inspires you to step out and try more varieties.

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Dealing with Squash Vine Borers

Hey folks,

Have had a bunch of questions about dealing with squash vine borers.  Here are my 5 ways to deal with them:

  1. Resistant varieties

Debby with two Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squashes she grew
Debby with two Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squashes she grew

You can look for squash vine borer resistant varieties. The only zucchini I grow anymore is Raven, which is a hybrid. It does eventually succumb to the bug pressure, but I at least get a few weeks of zucchini from it before that happens and I take it out. I cannot recommend Black Beauty as it is a real bug magnet.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has come varieties you might want to try that are more resistant: for summer squash: Lemon Squash. For winter squash: Green-Striped Cushaw may do well for you. Last year, we did very well with the Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash (see pic of two Debby grew) which looks like a big tan pumpkin and was a big hit.. that was what was in the photo of me near the end of the presentation. Waltham Butternut is also good at borer resistance and has grown well for me.

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  1. Hand removal

Checking daily, or every other day goes along way!  Look at the base of the main stem,  about 4” from the ground up.

If you see a bulge in the stem, there is likely a squash vine borer worm in that bulge.

To remove the worm:

  • make a vertical slit, along the stem:
  • carefully open the stem to find the worm
  • remove the worm and give it a new incarnation
  • carefully close the wound and gently wrap it with tape (the tape is optional, but helps the wound heal and keeps out dirt, etc.)
  1. Crop Rotation

Rotating crops works best if you have a large garden, say at least a couple hundred square feet, or have beds that are on opposite sides of your property.  You want to rotate all members of the cucurbit family as one rotation.  This includes not only winter and summer squash (and zucchini), but also cucumbers and melons (including watermelons).

If you do not have enough space for this, or if you have a major infestation, don’t grow this family of crops for a year or two. I have done this a couple times with good results and got to experiment with new crops in the meantime.

  1. Nematodes

One organic way to deal with these critters is by adding certain nematodes to your soil.  My go-to company for these is Arbico Organics.

  1. Pheromone Lures & Traps

Another purchased option, again from Arbico Organics, are traps with pheromone lures specifically for squash vine borers.

A Final note is that Blue Hubbard squash is known to be a squash vine borer trap crop.  Which admittedly bums us out because we love Blue Hubbard.

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Easy Gardening – Why Fall & Winter is the Best

grow lettuce Got a text last week from a wonderful lady, who inspired this post.  I suspect the heavy bug pressure she in her garden this summer, is what has had she and her husband decide not to garden this fall and winter.  I see this allot, people are going into the fall, having had some difficulty gardening, whether it be bug pressure, drought, or life circumstances, get garden burn-out and stop, right when it becomes the easiest time of year to garden.

Here are 3 reasons for you to reconsider and get that fall and winter garden going:

  1. Lack of bugs – As cooler weather approaches, there are not only less bugs eating your food, but less bugs wanting to eat you. Once there is a freeze, you don’t have to worry about bug pressure until it gets warm again next spring.  A major relief.
  2. Pleasant Weather – The cooler weather is also much more pleasant to be out in your garden than the brutal heat of summer. Your garden can be a welcome haven of outdoor time when it is enjoyable to be outside. Taking an afternoon day-trip to your garden is less expensive and time consuming and still allow you to get away from work and other concerns.
  3. You get food all year! Most everyone loves their homegrown summer tomatoes. Think about how much better your homegrown tomatoes are than the ones you buy in the supermarket. Ok, translate that into your salads, green smoothies, and winter root veggie soups.  Yes, homegrown produce of any variety is going to be fresher, more satisfying  and better tasting then store bought.

You still have time, the end of September is the time in US Zone 7 to get those fall and winter transplants in the ground.

I hope all of you out there who are bailing on your garden this fall, reconsider.

Kale, raised beds and hoop house uncovered on a sunny fall day

Territorial Seed Company – 2017 Seed Catalog Reviews

 

For years I have considered Territorial to perhaps be my favorite seed company although I really cannot pick one favorite as you can see from this series of posts.  The reason Territorial Seeds has gotten consistently high marks is because they have such a wonderful large diverse selection of varieties, with most being open pollinated. I must say, for 2017, they seem to be moving into more hybrids to a disappointing degree. I prefer a large selection of open pollinated varieties with a few highly tested hybrids for certain situations.


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That said, they have made one major improvement in their already outstanding catalog.  Territorial has always provided nutra red carrotoutstanding growing information in their catalogs, making it a great resources, but for 2017, they have improved the layout of the information, which now looks similar to Sow True Seed and is much easier to read than previous years.

Territorial is very conscious of offering quality non-GMO seed. Although not all their selections are organic, they do have organic dazzeling blue lacinato kal eoptions. One of the first seed companies we started using in the 1980s and the only one who has had the sustaining power to keep us coming back all these decades later.

Some interesting new varieties they are offering for 2017 are Sugar Magnolia, a violet-podded snap pea, Nurti-Red carrot, high in lycopene, Dazzling Blue lacinato kale with shocking pink midribs.

organe burst cauliflowerWanting an orange cauliflower the variety of which is NOT owned by Monsanto (Cheddar is owned by them), try Orange Burst Cauliflower, a hybrid worth trying.

They carry many of our must have favorites including Blue Lake pole bean, Purple peacock broccoli, Alderman shelling pea, and Gourmet orange bell pepper.  For red slicing tomatoes we like Stupice, Siletz victoria butterhead lettuceand Carmelo.  For smaller tomatoes try Gold Nugget, Chocolate cherry and Principe Borchese.

I’ve always loved their outstanding selection of lettuces. Some favorites include: Matina sweet and Victoria butterheads, Loma raven zucchiniFrench crisp, Merlot and Two Star leaf and Flashy Trout’s Back (Forellenschluss) and Marshall romaine.

If you need or want a hybrid summer squash, Territorial has our two favorites, Raven zucchini and Bush baby, which is good for small space and container gardens.  Considering great container varieties, betterbush butternut squash in a containerBetterbush hybrid butternut squash lets you harvest butternut squashes from containers.  Unheard of until recently, but we tried it last year and itterritorial seed company fall and winter catalog s true!

For those wanting to garden in all four seasons, Territorial has a Fall & Winter catalog dedicated to varieties for the cold seasons, including overwintering varieties.  This catalog has the same type of great growing information you find in their Spring & Summer catalog.

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2017 Seed Catalog Reviews – Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

southern exposure seed exchange 2017 catalogFor you local Virginians who want to support Virginia businesses, Southern Exposure is for you.

They are a great source of varieties that grow well in the mid-Atlantic and Southern states, including some local heirloom varieties. Popular examples include Old Virginia tomato, an heirloom of the famous VA Ginter family, Anne Arundel melon, grown in Maryland since 1731, Mountain Princess tomato from the Monongahela National Forest area of West Virginia, and Seminole pumpkin, cultivated in Florida by Native American Indians since the 1500s and now grown by Living old virginia tomatoEnergy Farm in Virginia.

Even if you are in another area of the country, they are a wonderful resource. They have a larger than usual selection of collards, okra, southern (or cow, or blackeye) peas, and tomatillos. If you want to try tenn red valencia peanuts your hand at growing natural colored cotton or peanuts, Southern Exposure is your seed company.

Interestinwinthers white pole beang new selections for 2017 include Withner White Cornfield bean, an Indiana heirloom for growing up corn stalks, and Geranium Kiss, a red dwarf determinate tomato for containers.

Early White Bush Scallop patty pan squash has been a family favorite of ours since the 1960s and these folks have it along with our other famoon and stars yellow fleshed watermelonmily favorite, yellow crookneck. We crimson sweet watermelon also like Sweet Valentine romaine lettuce which we have not found elsewhere in recent years.

I like their selection of watermelons which include red, yellow and orange fleshed varieties.

Southern Exposure has a good selection of seed saving equipment. We always enjoy their selections for hot humid climates like ours, hope you do too.

Sow True Seed – 2017 Seed Catalog Reviews

sow true seed 2017 catalog We love these folks more and more each year.  Every time I open their catalog, it makes me happy.  Their mission statement sort of covers why: “.. to preserve our shared botanical heritage and grow a new era of sustainable culture and ecological wisdom. We support independent, regional agricultural initiatives that foster vibrant, sustainable economy, and true food sovereignty.”

They carry only open pollinated varieties that ‘grow true from seed”, meaning when you save seed and plant it, you’ll get the same variety. Although they are not 100% organic, they support small farms who cannot afford organic or biodynamic certification. They provide seed from their network of skilled regional growers and independently-owned North American seed producers. That often means you are supportingsow-true-seed-custom-seed-packets small family farmers when you buy seed from Sow True Seed.

Want custom printed seed packets for your special event, business or fundraiser?  You can get them from Sow True.

Sow True Seed has an impressive, very well rounded section of seeds, red pimento pepperswhich can be hard to find from companies who don’t carry loads of varieties for each plant.  It is obvious they really take care in varietal selection.  This is a standout aspect of Sow True.  They could easily be your only seed company and you’ll have a great garden.

Some of our favorite selections include: Jericho lettuce, Ashe County, Red Ruffled and Tangerine pimento sweet peppers, Hearts of Gold Ronde de Nice summer round squash melon, Red Acre cabbage, Snowball self-blanching cauliflower, Ronde de Nice summer squash, Blue Hubbard winter squash, and Bush Pickle cucumber which is great for containers.  They also carry Tam Jalapeno, a variety we grew years ago to make salsa for those who can’t take much heat.

hearts of gold melon Sow True Seed also has a fun selection of Seed Collections for those just starting out or wanting some inspiration. Their catalog provides useful information on throughout, including companion planting information, making the catalog a valuable resource.

Please support these folks, as they are a wow of doing the future right. Plus how awesome is there name?