Cucumber Beetles vs. Erin

Author Photo
By Erin Sheehan

In 2009, we had a bumper cucumber crop. Our harvest was so good that we had all we could eat, and I canned pickles and relish for the first time – 1,000-Island pickles using my grandmother’s recipe and cucumber relish using my mom’s recipe.

Then came 2010. And 2011. And 2012. All three years, we sowed cucumber seeds in the ground and faithfully watered. Each year the plants grew and thrived, but about when they started to blossom they abruptly wilted and, soon after, died. So discouraging! Last summer, having pulled the last of my remaining relish out of the canning cellar, I had to can relish with cucumbers my mom BOUGHT! I felt like such a failure.

Last year, Jim tried to make up for our past disastrous efforts by planting an entire package of cucumber seeds along the front fence of our home garden plot. He thought if we over-planted perhaps we’d end up with at least a few cucumbers. A few weeks after planting, I noticed a heavy infestation of yellow-and-black-striped insects on the plants. Not having any idea what they were, I called up my favorite gardening guru: Mom. She correctly identified them as cucumber beetles.

Reading up on cucumber beetles, I realized that they were the likely cause of our previous crop failures. Although the beetles themselves don’t generally do significant damage, they carry a bacterium that infects the plant with bacterial wilt and subsequently kills it. The beetles also eat squash plants. Our concentration of squash and cucumbers in one area of the garden attracted mass quantities of these destructive bugs.

The results from the organic control methods seemed quite discouraging and, after three years of sacrificing our crop to this beetle, I didn’t want to risk another crop failure. Jim and I went to the garden center and picked up “Eight Garden Dust” by Bonide. We carefully followed the instructions and dusted our plants. Just once was enough. Although the beetles did eventually return, we had killed enough of them at the critical time – before the plants were strong enough to survive the onslaught.

I’m not proud of using a pesticide in our garden, but the amount we used was very small, in a single dose on a controlled area, and the reward was great. We harvested more than 250(!) beautiful, tasty cucumbers.

We delivered cucumbers to neighbors much as most gardeners foist zucchinis on others – anonymously and under the cloak of darkness. Several dozen went to the local food pantry. I also replenished my supply of pickles and relish, and we ate cucumbers for both lunch and dinner for weeks. Will we use the dust again this year? Our cucumbers are in blossom so it’s time to decide. I can’t say what we’ll do, but I’m grateful for last year’s amazing cucumber harvest. If anyone has successfully combated cucumber beetles without the use of pesticides, please post your stories below!

Published on Jul 11, 2014