Midsummer Vegetable Troubleshooting: Part 1

Troubleshooting isn’t just for computers. Sometimes questions crop up because of a new problem or situation in our garden.  Just when we think we’ve got our bases covered, we spot a new pest on a plant or run across something odd in the garden.  Today I have three answers to fairly common problems in the garden to start off a “Troubleshooting” series at Veggie Gardener. Next week there will be three more problems followed by answers and solutions.

What Are All These Grey Bugs on my Squash Plants?

I still remember clearly the first time I had an infestation of squash bugs. I had worked up a special area for pumpkins and squash plants, thrilled when everything came up nicely. Midseason I started noticing a few grey bugs, then more and suddenly they were everywhere. If I had noticed the eggs, I could have had some control over the bugs, but it was a busy summer and I didn’t see them on the underside of the foliage.

These grey bugs are known as the squash bug(Anasa tristis) and they are common throughout the U.S., found mostly on squash and pumpkin plants, but sometimes cucumber plants as well. The adults overwinter, laying eggs that hatch during the next garden season. It’s important to clean up all debris in the fall and leave the garden area as clean as possible. Once the bugs start hatching they can be picked off the plants, or sprayed with a mixture of soap and water. The adult bugs are very hard to kill, but can be picked off and dropped in a bucket of soapy water.

The good news about squash bugs is that if the plants are mature they won’t do a lot of harm to the plants unless it’s a severe infestation.  The bugs suck up nutrients from the plant which may cause wilting and discoloration, but don’t spread disease.  Continue to pick off and discard the squash bugs as much as possible for the rest of the season.

Why are my cucumbers bitter?

The Washington State University Cooperative Extension explains the science behind the “bitterness” in cucumbers:

“Cucurbitacin B and cucurbitacin C are the names of the compounds which cause bitterness in varieties of cucumbers grown in the United States. Wild cucumbers, which are mostly extremely bitter, may contain a number of other related compounds. The cucurbitacins occur in all parts of the cucumber plant, and leaves, stems, and roots of most cultivated varieties contain varying amounts of these compounds. Only occasionally does the bitter principle spread from the vegetative parts of the plant into the cucumber fruit.”

Why aren’t all cucumbers bitter? There isn’t an exact answer to that questions, but rather many theories. Cucumbers need to be watered regularly, on a schedule if possible, never too wet or too dry. Cucumbers need full sun, but if the days are 90 degrees and higher, a little shade will give them some needed relief. Oddly, there are often more reports of bitterness after a cool growing period than a hot one.

If you nurture your cucumbers and they still seem bitter, try peeling cutting the ends about an inch into the cucumber, then peel them rather thickly with a vegetable peeler. It doesn’t matter HOW you peel the cucumber. The bitterness often is in the peel and the ends, not farther into the flesh of the cucumber.

Why Are My Tomatoes Splitting?

The skin splits near stem of the tomato for several reasons, and sometimes it can’t be prevented completely, but gardeners can control some of the reasons. Make sure your tomato plants are watered on a regular basis. They shouldn’t be drenched to the point of soggy soil, then left to dry out. Excess water, and the soil going from soggy to very dry will cause cracking. Temperatures that very greatly can also cause cracking also. Burning hot temperatures during the day followed by a cool evening will sometimes cause splitting. One other thing that could cause splitting  is a lack of foliage to protect ripening tomatoes. Some gardeners snip off the offshoot stems, but if too many are removed the plant might be too “bare” and there won’t be enough foliage to shield the tomatoes from the hot sun.

Give tomatoes space to “breathe”, scheduled watering and don’t over prune the plants. This will give them the chance they need for a good harvest. Cracked, scarred or split tomatoes can still be eaten if picked right away.

These three garden problems are more an annoyance than anything else, so don’t become overly stressed.  Try the different tips for solving the problems at hand, and learn from the experience.

5 Comments on Midsummer Vegetable Troubleshooting: Part 1

  1. Hey Tee, just wanted to ask a quick question. I noticed some small brown eggs underneath my green bean leaves. Could this be squash bugs? I held off until early June until I planted and have not seen any sign of the bugs. I am in the Central area of New Mexico. Appreciate your feedback, Take care, Randy!

  2. Thanks for the tips on the tomatoes. Mine keep splitting and I do think it’s partly due to the UK climate but will take your tips on board.

  3. My tomatoes have small yellow spots on the skin and for each yellow spot there is a hard spot on the tomato meat. Do you know what causes that?

  4. Hello Tee I had an idea that I had seen on the garden channel years ago and this is a method I have used on my cucumbers that I just started growing and a plant was given to me. I decided to go ahead and give it a try and I had only gotten one cucumber off of my vine this is because the bug of some sort keep eating my first growth. I have now used pepper spray in a spray bottle and it has been working pretty well so far. I have manage to save most of them even though they have stopped growth. I keep them watered but I think because these bugs has been on my vine at first then the rest of them don’t want to grow. The recipe for the pepper water and I like the part that it is so natural. You get a small watering bottle and put a good 4 to five drops of hot sauce on the cucumbers the new ones and the big ones. They may taste a little hot but, I rather that instead of chemicals. I did have seven dust on the leaves and now something looks like it is eating the leaves. I live in the south of Lousiana outside of New Orleans. I did find one bug that was a kind of big spider. And one day a slug on the bottom of my pot in the dirt part. What do you think of this method some days I have found I have to put more hot sauce on the little new cucumbers. This is what they were eating mostly and every now and then they get away with a good many of them.

  5. We have what I call “Tomato Blight”, and would like to know how to deal with it?

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