I grow most of my vegetables in a community garden plot: sunny, cheerful, with soil I’ve been improving with free compost for years now. It’s a good situation, but while community gardeners can share labor, tools, plants and seeds, they also end up sharing pests and diseases. Our garden has been suffering from a problem I never encountered at home or in the Derwood demo garden: mosaic virus on cucumbers and squash. Mostly I have dealt with this problem by the highly scientific method designated Not Even Trying, but this year I really want to succeed. So, some research!
The squash plant family (Cucurbitaceae) includes many garden favorites- cucumber, summer and winter squash, pumpkin, muskmelon, and watermelon. Unfortunately, it’s a family vulnerable to some of the most consequential insect pest and disease problems. The names squash bug, cucumber beetle, squash vine borer, downy mildew, and bacterial wilt strike fear in a gardener’s heart. And those just represent the starting team. The legion of potential pest problems is sufficient to bring the toughest gardener to his knees sobbing in anguish.
But there’s hope for the human animals competing against insects, mites, and pathogens for these valued food resources. There are many ways to prevent and manage these problems and these are covered in detail on the HGIC website. Here are a few strategies that I think are less widely used. Give them a try in your pursuit of higher yields with fewer tears!
- Select disease resistant cultivars. Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online website has a matrix for each vegetable crop that lists all major diseases and cultivars with resistance claims. They even include seed companies that sell the seeds! Special note: ‘County Fair’ cucumber is resistant to bacterial wilt; butternut and ‘Tromboncino’ squash are fairly resistant to squash vine borer.
- Apply floating row covers when seedlings emerge or transplants go in. The material excludes all critters. Remove the cover when plants start to bloom.
- Plant around insect pests by planting healthy transplants as soon as conditions allow or waiting until mid-June to plant seeds. Plant pumpkin and winter squash from late June to July 4th.
- Keep planting. Cucumber and summer squash can be sown several times, 2-3 weeks apart.
- Scout your plants for signs and symptoms of problems and take action early!
This year at the Derwood Demo Garden we acquired some new planting space, which I decided to use for a growing technique we just haven’t had the square footage for in many years: a Three Sisters garden. Growing corn, beans, and squash together in this symbiotic way is an innovation of several Native American peoples, particularly the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois. Each of the sisters has a role: the corn, grown in small groups in separate hills, creates a tall structure; the beans twine up the corn and stay high up for picking; the squash spreads out to suppress weeds and deter animals. Continue reading