Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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7 Natural Ways to Control Cucumber Beetles

So far the 2014 garden is off to a great start! At the end of May I shared a summary of what’s going well and what’s not-so-swell. At that time, the garden remained relatively pest-free. However in the short time since that post I’ve encountered to more prevalent invaders. The first pest is a mysterious, large, picky eater. The invader may be a deer, although there are no signs of jumping our 8-foot tall fence and the tracks left in a few places seem a bit large for a deer. (Unfortunately between rain and very soft soil the shape has been difficult to determine.) Whoever has been helping themselves has passed over scores of deer-favorite veggies in favor of our kale and pepper plants, exclusively.

Meanwhile, our other main invader is not nearly as elusive or picky. This year I’ve experienced the earliest and most prolific invasion of cucumber beetles ever. They have recently backed off without intervention from me, so I’m hoping the garden will be able to weather their presence without any (natural) chemical or other intervention from me. Though they have impacted several different crops, so far the only casualty has been my acorn squash (wiped out almost entirely). Fortunately there’s plenty of time left in the Michigan growing season to reseed squash. Just in case you’ve also encountered a cucumber beetle invasion, here’s some information and a few tips for letting them know who’s boss!

Cucubmer Bugs 7 Natural Ways to Control Cucumber Beetles

What Are Cucumber Beetles?

According to our buddies at Wikipedia:

“Cucumber beetle is a common name given to members of two genera of beetles, Diabrotica and Acalymma, both in the family Chrysomelidae. The adults can be found on cucurbits such as cucumbers and a variety of other plants. Many are notorious pests of agricultural crops. The larvae of several cucumber beetles are known as corn rootworms.”

Cucumber beetles actually look like cute little yellow lady bugs. (They had me completely fooled during my first year as a CSA grower!) Don’t be fooled. These little guys want to eat your cucurbits to oblivion. That means they’ll feast on cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini and hard squash plants, to name a few. They also appear to be nibbling on my beans and possibly my ground cherries.

Here is a description from the Farmers’ Almanac to help you identify cucumber beetles:

“Adults are about ¼ inch long and have a yellow and black striped abdomen and a dark colored head and antennae. Look for holes and yellowing and wilting leaves. Crop yield will be low; and plants will produce yellow and stunted fruits. The larvae are worm-like, white, dark-headed, a have three pairs of legs on the thorax.”

Transforming leaves into swiss cheese (or gobbling them up entirely) aren’t the only ways cucumber beetles wreak havoc in a garden. They are also carriers for diseases such as bacterial wilt and cucumber mosaic virus.

Cucumber beetles overwinter in plant debris and wooded areas near your garden. Once temperatures warm, they can move into the garden to begin feasting on your newly transplanted seedlings. While the adults can eat leaves, stems and blossoms, the larva will also feast on the plant’s root system.

How to Control Cucumber Beetles

Here are some natural (or at least, free from synthetic chemicals) methods you can use to address cucumber beetles in your garden.

Click here to read all seven tips on our website.

 
 

Finding Neem Oil

neem oil natural pesticide

{Image Credit}
Home Depot

Last year I shared this post about my great love for zucchini and my complimentary great hatred for squash bugs and vine borers. I also shared about my equally passionate distaste for white powdery mildew and anthracnose. All of these pests/problems plagued my curcurbits (zucchini, melons, squashes) in our 2012 season. Since then I’ve taken steps to minimize the impact of these Axis of Evil members on my garden, including:

1. No mulch around squashes (it provides a place for bugs to hide)
2. Companion planting of radishes as a trap crop for vine borers
3. Companion planting of beans to provide extra nutrients to cucumbers
4. A bi-weekly application of neem oil

I can’t comment on how effective my no-mulch system has been because it’s difficult to measure how much squash bugs hide. However I can say that with all of these methods combined, I have seen only one case of vine borer damage and only recently (last week) have I seen any squash bugs. Also, I have had zero anthracnose issues and only a limited powdery mildew issue on some golden zucchini. (The golden zucchini are planted in a hugelkultur bed where the soil is 100% native, sandy soil. These plants – presumably – are suffering from having fewer nutrients than our compost-planted crops in other hugels and they have struggled the most of all the producing plants this summer. That being said, they are still producing, even if only a small amount.) Though I clearly still have work to do regarding the insect invaders in my garden, I’m pleased to say that I seem to have found just the right trick to keeping mildew and anthracnose at bay: Neem oil.

What is Neem Oil?

Last year’s issues with these diseases was awful with a capital BAD! In researching the issue, I discovered that neem oil can be a natural solution. What is neem oil? So glad you asked…

According to Wikipedia:

Neem oil is a vegetable oil pressed from the fruits and seeds of the neem (Azadirachta indica), an evergreen tree which is endemic to the Indian subcontinent and has been introduced to many other areas in the tropics. It is the most important of the commercially available products of neem for organic farming and medicines.

The site goes on to say:

Formulations made of neem oil also find wide usage as a biopesticide for organic farming, as it repels a wide variety of pests including the mealy bug, beet armyworm, aphids, the cabbage worm, thrips, whiteflies, mites, fungus gnats, beetles, moth larvae, mushroom flies, leafminers, caterpillars, locust, nematodes and the Japanese beetle. Neem oil is not known to be harmful to mammals, birds, earthworms or some beneficial insects such as butterflies, honeybees and ladybugs if it is not concentrated directly into their area of habitat or on their food source. It can be used as a household pesticide for ant, bedbug, cockroach, housefly, sand fly, snail, termite and mosquitoes both as repellent and larvicide (Puri 1999)[not specific enough to verify]. Neem oil also controls black spot, powdery mildew, anthracnose and rust (fungus).

Where to Get Neem Oil

You can order neem oil online or you can buy it at most home improvement stores. I purchased Natria Neem Oil from Home Depot for about $15. Options include a concentrate which you mix with water or a ready-to-spray formula that has already been diluted with water. I selected the concentrate because I felt it would stretch farther based on the quantity in each bottle. (I also purchased a 1 gallon sprayer similar to this one so I could have a dedicated container.) The Natria Neem Oil says “for organic gardening” right on the package, however I’ve noticed since that other neem oils are listed as being organic themselves while this is not. The next time I purchase neem oil, I’ll select something from the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved list, which you can find here. The OMRI website also has a “Where to Buy” section.

How to Use Neem Oil

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you must follow the direction on the container! My neem oil is concentrated so I combine a small amount with water. Because neem oil can burn plant leaves under lots of sun exposure, its best to spray plants early in the morning or late in the afternoon. I usually spray in the afternoon because there is still enough daylight/warmth to dry the leaves but I don’t have to worry about a noon-day sun showing up a few hours later. I use neem oil on plants which tend to have disease or pest issues in my garden: Broccoli, cauliflower, squashes, melons, cucumbers and tomatoes. Although the packaging gives no limitations regarding spraying greens, I don’t spray it on any crops where the leaves are going to be eaten. The packaging for my neem oil says that weekly applications are permissible and recommends use either once a week or every-other week. I started in May with weekly applications and transitioned to bi-weekly in June. (On off weeks I fertilize the garden with diluted fish emulsion. With that said, things grew well in July and I confess that I haven’t fertilized in over a month.)

More Info

For more info about neem oil – including info on toxicity in humans and animals (hint: there is little to none) check out this link: http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/neemgen.html#whatis

So far, I’m thrilled with the results. Neem oil has enabled me to effectively stave off white powdery mildew and anthracnose in my garden. Although I can’t say for sure that it has been effective at warding off vine borers and squash bugs, its effectiveness might increase if I used it weekly instead of bi-weekly. Before I go there, my next attempt at squashing squash bugs is going to involve a hungry chicken! I’ll let you know how that goes…

Anyone else use neem oil? Other natural fungicides or pesticides? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 
 
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