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Need help with Cucurbits  RSS feed

 
Algernon Gordon
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I live in Atlanta where it is hot, wet and humid in the summer. I have NEVER grown a successful crop of long-season cucurbits like melons or winter squash. I lose them every time to disease and squash bugs. Vine borers are also a problem here but I haven't been hit with them yet.

I can grow cucumbers and summer squash quite well because they are early-season growers and fruit very quickly, before the bugs and disease have a chance to really take hold. But winter squash and melon require months of growing and that's just too long to keep them bug/disease free.

I've tried spraying with neem, copper, spinosad.... nothing works against the disease and squash bugs.

I'm looking for tips that will allow me to grow them with as little maintenance as possible. I would love to grow things like acorn squash and cantaloupe.

Any help would be very appreciated!
 
John Elliott
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Plant late.

I know it's fun to get out in April and get the squash in the ground as soon as the soil temperature is up in the 60s and watch it take off as the days warm up. The squash bugs like to watch it take off too. Let them have their fun early in the season, but somewhere else. Don't plant early squash and invite them into your garden. I've never been able to stay ahead of them once they show up early.

Instead, I plant late. Planted some butternut squash in July and harvested them last week. They weren't bothered at all by squash bugs.
 
Marsha Richardson
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Ditto on the plant late. Check your latest frost date. Check the "days to harvest" on the squash/melon or whatever you want to grow. That will give you a pretty good idea when to plant you cucurbits. There are farmers here (Central VA) that plant pumpkins at the end of June, beginning of July for October pumpkins. They may need a little more irrigation but the squash bugs seem to be less of a problem. I tried that this year and just now harvested some Candy Roaster winter squash that were never bothered by bugs and my summer squash are still putting out little squash. Never beat the bugs like that before.
 
Algernon Gordon
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Thanks for the quick replies. I actually tried the candy roaster squash in 2012 and it looked like it would produce some good ones but ultimately I lost them. I did plant them very early though.

I will try late now.

Do either of you use a trellis of any kind? What are you using for mulch? I thought a trellis might help because it would keep the plants off the ground where they will get more airflow and perhaps will allow less places for the squash bugs to hide from predators (if they even HAVE any predators).

Thanks!
 
John Elliott
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No trellis, no mulch, this was an experiment with a rotted tree stump. It was so rotted and hollowed out, that I had to add a couple wheelbarrow loads of dirt to it. Kind of "hugelkultur-in-place" gardening.

I have a one-night-stand attitude when it comes to winter squash. After I plant the seeds, I don't give them any more attention until it's time to look for what to harvest. Exactly the opposite from summer squash, where you have to check on them twice a day to see what's ready to harvest.
 
Algernon Gordon
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Interesting, so you didn't have any trouble with weeds choking out the plants?

I thought of making a big brush pile of fallen tree limbs, and planting a few of the melon seeds around it, then training the vines to grow up over the brush pile. I could possibly avoid having to mulch this way. But then again, it would give the squash bugs a place to hide (in the brush).

 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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I don't have your insect issues, but the tradeoff is insufficient heat to grow melons!
Which diseases are you getting?
I see squash bugs are vectors for some nasty viruses.
Here's my entirely theoretical take, and John's solution looks much more aligned to your needs
I've read that they love c. pepo and don't care much for c. moschata.
Many growers in 'bug territory' have sacrificial c. pepo plants (apparently the c. moschata thing is the same for squash vine borer)
This only works if you mix the species, as the bugs will just eat c. moschata if they don't have a choice.
You also have to destroy the c.pepo plants before the bugs mature.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Location: Western Washington
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(Jumble of letters),


Living in cold wet Washington I haven't dealt with the insect pressures but I have seen my far share of mold pressures on Cucurbits. Molds thrive in moist still settings. Cucurbits like quite a bit of room between them . Even in a greenhouse with single leader cukes I've never planted them closer than 18 inches apart. 24-28 was standard for field squashes.

I've been playing with the idea of planting them up high. Like in pots on the roof for instance. Lots more air circulation and it gives a healthy buffer zone to the ground (where the mold spore are lying in wait). Cucurbits like heat anyway. Most farms around these parts will plant them into a single use black plastic landscape cover - both for added heat in the soil and to exclude weeds.


Keep trying! You're lucky! I've never been able to pull of melons successfully without a double walled greenhouse.
 
John Polk
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I agree with the late planting suggestion.

The squash bugs lay their eggs in the soil (after dining on your crop). These eggs overwinter.
In the spring, the eggs hatch and mature once the soil warms, and your plants are ready for them to dine on.

By not planting early, you are denying them a food source. Their life cycle cannot wait for a non-normal late crop.
If they haven't migrated to your neighbor's squash crop, they will die off hungry.
This should reduce their populations in future seasons, as well as denying them food for this season.

As far as the vine borers, their preference is soft vines...much easier to chew into.
If they become a problem, try selecting hard stemmed varieties.
This will reduce your damage, as well as weaken their populations for the future.

 
Craig Dobbson
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Location: Maine (zone 5)
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If the bugs are that bad, you might want to just take a year off from planting melons and squashes. Give them a chance to totally bail out of you garden. I've also heard that planting catnip in amongst your squashes will deter the borers.
I've had the most success when I plant a few weeks later in the season and keep many small patches of squashes divided throughout the property. I also mix up the varieties so that every plant has a non-related neighbor. This seems to help limit the spread of the mildew in the fall. For some reason Powdery Mildew seems to move slower though the garden if the squashes are all mixed up. By doing those things I lower the chance the disease will destroy my whole harvest. I lost a small patch of acorn squash and a couple pumpkins that were out in a new field but other than that... I have enough for winter. I gave quite a few to the chickens and pigs too. (about ten gallons of zucchini, yellow squash and wacky hybrids a day)
With summer squashes I like to plant them in succession (about every 2 weeks) so that I can cut down older plants as they start to weaken and still have younger ones producing fruit.
One other thing you may consider is row covers for young plants. That would at least keep the bugs at bay and limit disease transmission long enough for plants to establish themselves. You have to remove the cover when flowers open so that they can be pollinated. You could hand pollinate and replace the cover if the bug pressure is that bad.

 
Algernon Gordon
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Thanks for the additional replies. To answer the question about disease, I gave an infected leaf to a master gardener friend who took it to a university. The professor looked at it under the microscope and said it was a fungal disease, but not the common powdery mildew. The symptoms looked more like a bacterial wilt (starts with yellow spots which turn brown around the edges and expand until the whole leaf dies, then the stem, etc). I tried plucking the leaves at first sign of infection but the remaining healthy leaves eventually got the disease too. And as mentioned, the copper fungicide spray just didn't kill the disease (maybe it works better as a preventative measure than a way to eradicate it once it is established).

Based on all the input here, I think I'm going to try the following:
- Plant LATE (in July for Atlanta, as suggested)
- Plant further apart for better airflow (and perhaps make a small brush pile for the vines to climb)
- Plant in a different area

As for hard-stemmed varieties, I believe only butternut squash fits that bill and I REALLY want to grow melons and winter squash. But again, while friends have had vine borer problems, I haven't so I'm going to knock on wood and keep trying.

Lastly, on the topic of roof-planting, I had some Vietnamese neighbors who used to grow some sort of strange cucurbits over a lattice that was built over their deck. The vines climbed all the way up from pots on the deck and formed a 100% leaf cover over the deck along the lattice. They had a bumper crop every year and it looked great. I'm guessing having the vines up high like that increased airflow which helped with the disease. However, this was when I lived back in Oregon, not Georgia, so the problems/solutions may be different. Since I'm trying to go more permaculture/sustainable, a man-made lattice goes against that so that's why I have been thinking about a brush pile instead. It should probably last for a good couple of years before decomposing into the soil. My only concern would be weeds growing up through the brush pile. I have noticed that weeds around the cucurbits will cause a LOT of moisture to be held in the air on and around the cucurbit leaves which encourages disease.

 
Craig Dobbson
master steward
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Location: Maine (zone 5)
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Algernon Gordon wrote: Since I'm trying to go more permaculture/sustainable, a man-made lattice goes against that so that's why I have been thinking about a brush pile instead. It should probably last for a good couple of years before decomposing into the soil. My only concern would be weeds growing up through the brush pile. I have noticed that weeds around the cucurbits will cause a LOT of moisture to be held in the air on and around the cucurbit leaves which encourages disease.



I've made trellises out of all sorts of stuff from my land. I usually lash fallen ash tree branches together with twine so that in a year or two it's all broken down and I don't have to worry about nails or screws in the soil. I've made fences and windbreaks in the same way. I would say that it's totally Permie to build a trellis if it's nontoxic and serves a couple purposes. There isn't any rule anywhere that I'm ware of that states you can't make functional stuff that serves a purpose. At least this way you can mulch your plants and retain moisture while not making it a tangled weedy mess.

A brush pile would work well as habitat for all sorts of critters. Some good ones like snakes will help control slugs, but mice and rats also like a good brush pile and they'll gladly eat your squash. I guess what I'm saying is that you shouldn't feel like you're limited by unwritten "rules" in Permaculture. You should do what works best for you. After all, your goal is to obtain a yield of some sort. If a trellis is what you need, make one. Or buy one... if ya have to.

I made the one below with old grape vines that I wound up and tied together. I mounted it on some ash branches. They came from an ash tree that was getting too close to the power lines and had to be trimmed back. I grew tomatoes cucumbers and beans on it for one season. Hurricane Sandy took it down so I saved the branches and tossed the vine work on top of a hugel bed which helped with erosion until strawberries established themselves.
It took an hour to make, stood for one season and went back to the earth. Cost me nothing and grew a grocery cart full of food. Not a bad deal. Easy to mulch too

IMG_2173.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_2173.JPG]
Sticks, vines and twine.
 
John Polk
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you shouldn't feel like you're limited by unwritten "rules" in Permaculture


As Yogi Berra once said about the unwritten rules of baseball:
All them unwritten rules aint worth the paper they're written on.


 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
pollinator
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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I live in hot humid South Carolina Midlands. Howdy Neighbor! Chamomile Tea.

A daily spray of Chamomile Tea is the only thing that ever allowed me to get a harvest of any squash or cucumber. Also used some compost teas and a few milk sprays but the Chamomile Tea was the trick.

Even at that it didn’t last long. This year was a more problematic year than any other EVER in the Southeastern chemical free garden. The only thing that seemed to do really well without assistance were the bell peppers.

I did seed a few pumpkins out in the woods to climb the trees and forest floor and they did O.K.. I harvested a few the other day but have not cut them open yet. Those pumpkins were away from the rest of the garden. Just out on their own rambling through the woods. When I saw them a couple of days ago they did not have any signs of mildew. But… they also were not very large.

But I will save the seeds since they did manage to grow in some very austere conditions.
 
Mike Turner
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Location: Upstate SC
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Try growing a Cucurbita moschata variety such as "Seminole". It is a semi-wild winter squash that was grown by the Indians in south Florida and has been very productive and pest-free here in upstate SC despite the presence of a squash bug and borer population that regularly puts a quick end to my C. pepo summer squash plants.
 
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