Garden Lifestyle

Help for Growing Cucumbers

Cucumber seedlings are especially attractive to garden pests. Here’s how simple mini-greenhouses can outsmart hungry birds and squirrels.

Berry baskets make perfect miniature greenhouses to protect tender seedlings.
Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

Cucumbers are one of my favorite vegetables to use fresh from the garden. I enjoy them sliced in little cucumber sandwiches, tossed on top of salads, and mixed into all kinds of summery recipes. But for the last two years I’ve had trouble with my cucumber crops.

I’d soak the seeds overnight to soften them a bit for planting, then I’d prepare the garden bed, plant the seeds, and celebrate seeing the first seedlings pop up from the ground.

The next day I’d see that their tops would be missing, leaving only a tiny stalk standing.

My first thought was that cutworms were feasting on the cucumber seedlings, so I tried protecting them with collars, toothpicks, and other homemade cutworm guards.

But when these defenses failed, I knew I had other pests, like birds and squirrels, snacking on the seedlings.

This year I took a different approach to planting cucumbers. Instead of planting the seeds in the vegetable bed, I planted them in one of the large containers on the patio.

As soon as the seedlings poked up from the potting soil, I covered each one with a miniature greenhouse to protect it from harm. These greenhouses are the clear plastic berry boxes that hold strawberries purchased at the market. I simply cut the lid off the tops and placed the boxes over the seedlings.

These little greenhouses have worked well. Because they have slits in the sides, I watered right over them without damaging the seedlings. When the plants grew several inches tall and started to develop leaves, I removed the covers.

If this experiment works, next year I’ll use a combination of cutworm shields and these little greenhouses to outsmart all the garden pests. I’ll celebrate my success with a plate of cool cucumber sandwiches.

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