My cucumber theory update… results that will make you say “Me Too!”

Mother Nature Gets a Say…

I wrote about keeping cucumbers here. It also included peas and beans and how they should all be picked so the plant would continue to grow.

My theory was going really well until… well Mother Nature had her say.

We’ve had grasshoppers and aphids.

Cucumber disease in garden.

Drought then RAIN! So much rain!

Our cucumbers very likely have downy mildew, spread by insects and exacerbated by rain.

I posted this situation on Instagram and one of the local farmers said that cucumbers typically “boom and bust” so at their farm they grow more than one succession of cucumbers about 4-5 weeks apart. Typically, hoophouse grown cucumbers have less pest pressure and rain issues than field (or garden) grown cucumbers *Good to note*

I spoke to another local friend who said her second succession of her garden cucumbers are also looking yellow with similar markings. *Note: Even the best plans go awry when we let nature do her thing*

I’ve had MANY conversations the last few days about cucumbers showing wilt, downy mildew, or mosaic virus – cucumbers being bitter tasting – gardens having grasshoppers and overall wet conditions.

So even if you’re doing everything right – August rain storms, pest pressure, too dry of conditions, heat, cool nights, and more can make even your best intended cucumbers look less than healthy. They might leave a bitter taste in your mouth too… literally!

Here are several ways YOU can contribute to healthy cucumbers… and a few you can’t control.

  • Make sure your garden has good compost each year. Cucumbers, like many garden plants, need a lot of nutrients to grow. They are a short season grower so all of their nutrients have to be easily accessible to thrive. Think about how dandelions have deep tap roots to mine the ground for nutrients over a longer season than our veggie garden.
  • Rotate all cucurbits and THROW away all diseased plant material from the garden every year. Squashes, watermelons, cucumbers, and more are part of the cucurbit family – it’s important to grow them in different spots every year – do not grow them in the same place for a few years.
    • Note: Our cucumber bed was grass, peppers then tomatoes and now cucumbers. It’s never had a cucurbit in this space.
  • Keep the cucumbers from getting the soil/dirt splashed on them. Soil holds bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can cause disease. It’s best to get the cucumbers off the ground as soon as possible and to add mulch like straw, wood chips, or landscape fabric so the soil can’t splash on the cucumber leaves.
    • Note: We tied up our cucumbers really well this year but we did not cover the soil, I don’t think it would have changed our outcome because of the pests and amount of rain.
  • Ideally, you’ll want to water cucumbers only at their roots so no water splashes on their leaves –Cucumbers HATE being wet!
    • Note: This is really why I think most gardeners this year are seeing their cucumber plants finish their season right now. The amount of rain we’ve had in the last few days has been too much for the plants and they are stressed no matter what kind of exact disease is their demise.
  • Whatever touches our plants needs to be sanitized between plants and seasons. For example, our trellising this year is new, but each year it’s important to clean your trellising. You can research whether bleach, hydrogen peroxide, solarization/sunlight, or something else feels right for your garden.  This is something to do after you’ve removed all the vines and plants off the trellis.
    • It’s important to note that snips/scissors/pruners, hands, gloves, clothing, and shoes can transfer disease so if you’re handling sick plants, rotting leaves, or some sort of yuck in the garden do your best to clean your tools or hands between plants. For flower farmers that actually means walking around with a cup of sanitizing solution for their snips and sanitizing after each and every cut – especially specialty flowers like dahlias.
  • You can put up a lightweight fabric/netting that keeps out grasshoppers, cucumber beetles and the like. BUT you’ll have to remove it for the bees to pollinate the flowers OR you’ll need to hand pollinate each and every flower every day or a few times a day. (Cucumber is a fruit that comes from flowers being pollinated as described in this post.) For netting that can keep pests out and bring sunlight in creates a new consideration for how to water so keep this in mind.
  • Growing inside a hoop house helps keep the rain off of the cucumbers, but insects still hop around and spread diseases among the delicate plants.

So… What can you do?

(TL:DR – Too Long Didn’t Read)

First of all cucumbers grow best with one flush, one big push of cucumbers before the plant has spent enough energy and can no longer sustain good fruit.

The cucumbers taste the best when the plant is not stressed. Too much water, too little water, hot or cold temperatures, insects, diseases, and sunlight all have an impact on overall taste.

They seem like diva plants… but every single plant that grows in our gardens – food, flowers, and weeds – they all have a certain criteria where they thrive.

Remember that sometimes it’s not up to you. Mother Nature doesn’t give us ideal conditions for every single plant we grow. Some years the weather is ideal for tomatoes, and other years it’s great for peppers, even others the cucumbers love it. Other years you have to plant before or after the beetles/pests come into their season too.

Every year brings a new set of circumstances and we can only do our best to execute our plans as well as possible while understanding that cucumbers boom and bust. They get stressed for reasons we cannot control and that while we have a lot of say in what goes into our gardens, we work WITH nature to create our harvests.

May this article bring you grace for your garden season and may it also bring appreciation for those who farm. I’m so thankful I don’t have to rely on my own gardening to feed our family.

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