Nematodes Put an End to Cucumber Season by Patty G. Leander

My thriving cucumber season came to an abrupt halt a couple of weeks ago. It started when a strong windstorm knocked over a cage of ‘Amiga’ cucumbers and uprooted the plants completely. All my other cages were staked so I can’t explain why this one was not but anytime you grow anything on a tomato cage, don’t forget to stake it!


Strong winds uprooted a cage of cucumbers but luckily did not damage the adjacent planting of ‘Zeebest’ okra

I was disappointed but not surprised to find evidence of root-knot nematodes on the roots (see photo). Though my plants had been producing well throughout June and early July I had begun to notice pale green leaves, misshapen fruit, reduced yields and general wilting, all signs of nematodes infestation.


Root-knot nematodes are microscopic but a heavy infestation on the roots is easily visible as swollen galls within the roots

Nematodes are soil-dwelling, microscopic, worm-like parasites that feed on plant roots, causing swelling or galls within the roots, impeding the flow of water and nutrients. They are most active in summer when soil temperature ranges between 85 and 95°F. Cucumbers, okra, squash, beans and non-resistant tomatoes are especially susceptible. Because nematodes are most active at higher temperatures they are not a serious threat to most cool season plants, the exception being carrots and beets which can have severe damage. Alliums and sweet corn are not affected by nematodes.


Most cool-season crops are not affected by nematodes but beets and carrots are an exception

Because nematodes can devastate a crop it’s important to take action if you discover them in your garden. Below are a few earth-friendly methods for battling nematodes; you may never completely eliminate nematodes but the following methods will help keep their numbers in check so that damage will be kept to a minimum. Note that nematodes can be spread by tools and soil so be sure to clean and disinfect tools after working in soil that contains nematodes, also be careful not to fling soil from infected roots to adjacent parts of the garden.

Summer Fallow:  Nematodes are most active in warm soils and they need water to thrive so take advantage of summer’s heat to wither them away. Withhold water from nematode infested areas of the garden and turn or till the soil every 7-10 days during the summer to expose nematodes to the drying effects of the sun.

Crop Rotation: Plant nematode susceptible crops where non-host crops such as onions, garlic and sweet corn were previously grown.

Plant Nematode Resistant Crops:  If your garden is too small for crop rotation look for plants that are bred to have nematode resistance. A tomato labeled with “VFN” indicates disease resistance: V= resistance to Verticillium wilt; F = resistance to Fusarium wilt; N = resistance to root-knot nematode resistance. Resistance doesn’t mean they won’t get nematodes but they are able to resist them enough to produce a harvest. Resistant tomato varieties include ‘Better Boy’, ‘Tycoon’, ‘Celebrity’, ‘Big Beef’, ‘Lemon Boy’, ‘Sweet Chelsea’ and ‘Supersweet 100’.


French Marigolds and ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard can be used as cover crops to reduce nematode infestation

Plant Nematode Suppressive Crops: Certain types of marigolds (Tagetes patula) work by excreting a substance that is damaging to nematodes as well as trapping them in their roots and preventing reproduction. The key is to plant the entire area as a cover crop and leave it in place for several weeks to reduce nematode populations. A late summer planting of French marigolds can be left in place right up to the first frost; effective varieties include ‘Tangerine’, ‘Petite Harmony’, ‘Petite Gold’ and ‘Janie’. At the end of the season remove the tops and turn under the roots.  Elbon rye is an effective nematode control that can be planted as a cool-season cover crop that is turned under in early spring. Cut down or weed-whack the tops a couple of times during the growing season and either leave the tops in place as mulch or add them to the compost pile. ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard, also sold as Mighty Mustard®, contains high levels of compounds called glucosinolates that help suppress nematode populations. Cut down mustard before it sets seeds, add the tops to the compost pile and leave the roots to decompose in the soil. Both Elbon rye and ‘Pacific Gold’ mustard are available from Johnny’s Seeds (


Cut down or weed-whack cereal rye a couple of times during the growing season

Biological Control: In 2010, Dr. Kevin Steddom, a plant pathologist with Texas AgriLife Extension, conducted a trial at the AgriLife Research Station in Overton comparing several products for nematode control. He found that of all the products he tested, which included two soil fumigants, a biological fungicide called Actinovate was the most effective in lowering nematode populations. A 2-ounce packet sells for $18-20 but you only need ½ teaspoon per gallon and it can also be use for powdery mildew, black spot, early blight and other fungal diseases.


Secure clear plastic over very moist soil to create a greenhouse effect that will raise soil temperatures enough to kill nematodes.

Soil Solarization: Rake the soil so it is level and smooth, water well and cover with clear, UV resistant plastic (2-4 ml thick). Pull the plastic taut across the soil and secure or bury the edges with soil. Leave in place for 4-6 weeks, patching any holes with duct tape so heat cannot escape. This is often considered a last resort because the heat generated under the plastic kills everything, good and bad. It’s important to add organic matter at the end of the process; after removing the plastic do not work the soil for couple of weeks then top with a 2-3 inch layer of compost and water well before planting.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Planting Time – Finally!

This year I built a new vegetable garden.  I tilled up a 35’ X 20’ area next to my orchard and berry trellis.  Because of this, I was extremely excited.  I had grand plans for an early planting of mature tomatoes that I had grown from seed.  However, as we all know, if you get too excited about something in life, life is bound to throw you a curve.  My curve came in the form of bad weather.  In the past two weeks I have suffered through a hail storm and a late season freeze. However, in spite of all of these set backs, I finally got to plant most of my garden yesterday

You really have to love Craftsmen tools.  My Craftsman rear tine tiller set unused in my garage for the past three years.  This year, when I needed it, I added gas, pulled and started tilling.  Amazing!

You really have to love Craftsmen tools. My Craftsman rear tine tiller set unused in my garage for the past three years. This year, when I needed it, I added gas, pulled and started tilling. Amazing!

The hail storm that I mentioned literally pounded my etiolated tomatoes into the ground.  So, in order to have tomatoes this year I went to K&S Farm and Ranch Pet Center to buy my replacement plants. K&S is a family owned operation in Brenham that I frequent quite often.  When I say that K&S is family run, I mean family run.  Like Sally and I, Keith and Suzette Evans have a whole bunch of kids.  Every member of the Evans family has worked together to create a great little place to do business.  Through the years, we have enjoyed dealing with some of the nicest kids in Washington County (and the parents are really nice to deal with too).

Lemon Boy image from Homestead Nursery @

Lemon Boy image from Homestead Nursery @

Even though Keith and Suzette sell feed and pet supplies at K&S, they are really gardeners at heart.  Because of that, they keep a great selection of seeds (and grow them in their home garden) and sell a wide variety of transplants each season.  I bought a six pack of Early Girl, another of Lemon Boy and a couple of big Celebrity plants.  I also got a six pack of TAM jalapeños, a couple of yellow bells and four poblanos.

Mulching the rows of the "New" garden.  If you are going to garden in blackland soil, mulching the walk pathways is an absolute must!

Mulching the rows of the “New” garden. If you are going to garden in blackland soil, mulching the walk pathways is an absolute must!

I stayed out in the garden planting until almost 8:00 last night.  Thank God for daylight savings time.  In addition to the tomatoes and peppers I also planted contender bush beans and lima beans.  This weekend, barring bad weather, I will finish planting the “new” garden by adding cucumbers and corn. At least that’s the plan.  Who knows what else mother nature has planned for my 2013 spring garden!