A lot of things like to eat cucumbers.
There is a lot out there that wants to harm a cucumber plant. I like to keep some growing in one of the hoop houses. They are more protected in there, a little warmer. I was both inspired by the success and longevity of my indoor crop and frustrated with the rapid decline of those planted outdoors, so this year I planted in two houses. One house at the home farm and the other two miles away, on a property that hasn’t seen concerted vegetable farming in years. I did not expect the onslaught of cucumber beetles here, much less inside a greenhouse.
It was a cold, hard spring, so the plants had an additional row cover over them. When I finally lifted it, the vines were already covered with bright-yellow blossoms. I could smell it, faintly of cucumbers but sweet like melon, a fragrance that was just barely there, chase it as you may. A few days later, I found the first cucumber beetles. The pests mate as voraciously as they eat, and I spent about 15 frantic minutes clapping the things dead. They are obviously easier to kill when they are coupled, but I would need to be more lethal than this. They came quickly and in droves. In the sense that they find a good spot and then do the utmost to colonize and exploit it—right to the location’s ruination—insects are just like people. To the beetles my greenhouse was planted special for them, this is paradise. They sup on flowers and tender leaves. But worse is the secondary damage, the cucumber wilt virus they spread with their saliva. For a booming cucumber plant, these insects are the kiss of death.
In agriculture, as in most things, the best cure is prevention. I should have never lifted that row cover. I elect to spray an insecticidal soap and because I’m worried about the resident bees, I drop the row cover again. When I scout a few days later I note another insect has moved in. This one, also in droves, is a stink bug. At first I assume my luck is bad, and it’s a BMSB (brown marmorated stink bug), another practically invincible vegetable pest. But I look long enough and see these are the “good” stink bugs. They are hunting the surviving cucumber beetles. They stand frozen, waiting for one to land nearby, or they creep, cat like, bringing the prey in range. This stance is comical because they are large and brown and hardly hidden, kind of like a tree sneaking up on you. And yet, they are successful. I see a stink bug with a whole cucumber beetle up to his mouth. Chomp. •