Post #G13: Et tu, cuke?

Posted on July 23, 2020

Above:  Extremely over-ripe Boston Pickling cucumber.  Source:  My garden.

Another gardening post.  Just move along if you have no interest in gardening.

I keep trying to grow things that you just can’t buy in the grocery store.  I succeeded twice this week, and not in a good way.  The orange thing above is the blossom end of a pickling cucumber.  You’re supposed to pick those when they are about an inch in diameter, green.  This one managed to hide out and become fully ripe (and completely inedible).   My second “success” was a five-pound zucchini that I had overlooked despite harvesting summer squash more-or-less every day for the past two weeks.

At any rate, the gardening honeymoon is over for this year.  That sweet few weeks where I was getting produce without a lot of work is done with.  I’ll be spending the rest of the summer trying to prevent a total crash-and-burn.  And trying to learn from my mistakes.  Here’s my current litany of problems and proposed solutions:

  1. Squash Vine Borer.  Spraying spinosad, on the cucurbit stems, in the evening, every five days.  Probably too soon to tell if that’s effective.
  2. Powdery mildew:  Using a baking soda/oil/soap spray.  Does not (yet) appear effective.
  3. Cucumber beetle/bacterial wilt.  Using needle-nose pliers to crush them in the morning in the male squash blossoms.  Seemingly effective, and oddly satisfying.
  4. Non-ripening tomatoes:  Sun shade appears to be working, if slowly, to allow the tomatoes to ripen.

Detail follows:

Squash Vine Borer (SVB) moth is still here.  Killed one this AM, saw another one this PM.  By my count, I’m now in the 19th day of the mythical week-long Virginia SVB season, with no sign of letup.  So I’m putting the “one week season, then just replant your curubits” advice into the folklore category.

On the up side, none of my squash appear to be dying from the borers yet.  On the down side, the combination of powdery mildew and cucumber beetles will kill them first.  So we’re in (at least) a thee way-race to see what wipes out my curbits first.

Never again will I plant so many cucurbits in one place.  Never again will I plant cucurbits and not be prepared for the onslaught of pests to follow.

Just FYI, I only found out yesterday that there is a pheromone-based SVB trap.  These traps are supposed to lure male SVB moths into a sticky trap.  Not sure there’s enough of the SVB season to make it worthwhile to buy some at this point.  But I’m going to try them next year.

For now, I continue to spray every five days with Spinosad.

Powdery mildew:  I’m trying a low-toxicity method described in Post #G11.  This consists of a spray with baking soda, some horticultural oil, a little soap, and water.  Sprayed twice now, and if there has been an impact, it’s pretty subtle.  Going to give that a little while longer, and if no results, I’m going to try mouthwash (diluted 3:1 water to mouthwash).  As long as it doesn’t kill the plants, it has to be at least as effective as what I’m doing now.

Cucumber beetles and bacterial wilt.  I’ve been losing cucumber vines left and right to bacterial wilt.  This is spread by cucumber beetles.  The problem is, most things that will kill a cucumber beetle will also kill a bee.

There are options for dealing with them.  There are pheromone traps for these guys but with mixed reports on the sticky-trap portion trapping beneficial insects.  I’ve seen several reports that they are attracted to bright lights at night, and can be lured to their deaths that way.

(But I have to ask myself, do I want to be that guy — the one who sits in his garden at night, with bright lights, killing bugs.  No.  Or, at least, not yet.)

For now, I’m using a simpler method that I picked up from Youtube.  I noticed that I kept seeing these beetles inside my squash blossoms.  Turns out, that’s not a coincidence.  Apparently, they all or nearly all do that.  You can find them inside the male squash blossoms, in the early morning, and they are quite sluggish at that time.  So, reach in with a pair of needle-nosed pliers and crush them.  Works like a charm — I must have killed twenty this morning, in the span of 10 minutes.  Very efficient, compared to trying to hunt them down during the middle of the day, where they can be anywhere, and they are fairly agile.

Only saw one in the garden at mid-day.  So I’m sticking with this simple manual  control method rather than add another spray or trap to my existing routine.  If that’s not working, I may up my game with a bug vacuum.

Tomato shade and ripening.  My cherry tomatoes continue to ripen, if slowly.  I can’t be 100% sure that’s due to my putting up a shade for them, but it’s at least plausible.