I grew up on a farm, and even though I live in the city and the only outside space I have is a balcony, I still consider myself an avid gardener. Every year I try to grow as much as I can and even though I’m not always as successful as I’d like to be, I know that every year is a learning experience. Read on to learn about my experience with Cucumber Plant Mosaic Virus, so your gardening attempts don’t fail as spectacularly as mine have.
My Experience with Growing a Cucumber Plant
Usually my attempts get better over the years, but for several years now I’ve been attempting to grow cucumbers on my balcony. Unlike my other attempts, every year my efforts go unrewarded. Normally I would have some idea of what had happened, but with the cukes, I could never figure out what was going wrong.
Each year, sometime into the new year I would start the seeds indoors. I would use two separate containers and plant a couple of seeds in each. These would be thinned out as they grew, allowing only the strongest-looking ones to survive. Since I don’t have a lot of space, I would aim to have two plants to move outdoors.
Once the danger of frost had passed, they’d be transplanted to larger containers outside on my balcony. Each cucumber plant had its own container, sized about 14″ x 14”.
Everything would start out really well, but usually within just a week I would notice the inevitable decline. This would start out as a bit of leaf discoloration. The leaves would slowly lighten and get patchy, browning and withering at the edges.
Inevitable Dismay and Defeat
I would try my hardest to keep them going. I’d remove the affected leaves, put mulch over the earth, give them more sun, take them out of the sun. I was even really careful about how often I was watering, but nothing worked.
Whatever this thing was very quickly took over the whole plant. Within weeks, I had to admit I’d been defeated yet again. I knew that they were diseases, but I just didn’t know exactly what the problem was. Whenever I told someone I was having trouble with my cucumber plant, it turned out they were having the same issues. Or, they knew someone whose cucumbers had been affected as well. It seemed to be a wide spread problem.
I’ve since learned that my cucumbers had been infected by the insidious mosaic virus.
Mosaic Cucumber Plant Virus
Sadly, this virus basically spells out a death sentence for your cucumbers. The only thing you can do once you realize, is cut your losses and prepare yourself for a better growing season for the following summer.
Mosaic Cucumber Virus is one beast of a disease, and unfortunately once infected, the plant cannot be cured. This virus is most often spread by aphids, and can live in the soil that the plants inhabit. It can even over-winter in perennial and weed roots, returning with the new growth in the spring.
The virus is fairly easy to spot.
One of the first symptoms you’ll notice is that the plant’s growth seems stunted. Upon further inspection, you’ll see patches of lighter green, yellow and even white showing on the leaves. This discoloration spreads quite quickly.
Pretty soon the leaves’ edges will start to brown and curl. You can pluck the infected leaves to slow the spread to neighbouring plants, but make no mistake: the infected plants have got to go. If at all possible, burn all the infected plants. This reduces the risk of the mosaic being transferred to other plants if you just throw them in the garbage.
Never mix infected plant matter with clean compost either.
How to Dispose of Diseased Plants and Soil
Are you a city gardener like me? If so, you’ve undoubtedly learned that gardening in the city presents a whole host of challenges that a country gardener would never have to think of. For example, I miss going over to the manure pile to get some fertilizer, or distributing earth around as I please.
As a balcony gardener, you’re going to need to dispose of old soil at some point. If your plants been affected by Mosaic Cucumber Virus, you may be disposing of quite a bit. Unfortunately there are no curb-side pickup services for this.
When disposing of clean soil, you can place an ad in Kijiji or the like to locate someone who’ll come and take it away. No one really wants to pay for dirt, especially if they’re used to having easy access to it. Soil that hasn’t been contaminated is often referred to as “Clean Fill”. Alternatively, if you’re able to haul clean earth to the dump, they won’t generally charge to take it off your hands.
Contaminated Soil Disposal:
Disposing of contaminated soil is another matter altogether. There are specific disposal sites, but you have to find a way to get the earth there yourself. For someone like me, this means relying on someone with a car. You should also know that these disposal sites will charge you for the service.
This may sound frustrating to deal with, but getting rid of the contaminated soil is crucial for future growing success. I encourage you to go online and research disposal options for your area. More and more cities are looking at developing “soil recycling” sites. These clean impacted soil for reuse instead of simply burying it, as per the old way of doing things.
Disinfect the Contaminated Cucumber Plant Containers
In addition to getting rid of your contaminated soil, you’ll need to decontaminate your garden area. First and foremost, wash any containers that the soil has come in contact with. Make it a habit to clean out your pots annually, even if your containers haven’t been obviously contaminated.
Debris and salt buildup can harbor bacteria and be harmful to your plants.
Depending on how big your container is, you can clean them in a bucket on the balcony, or in your bathtub. If you can soak the container by submerging it completely, excellent. Otherwise, scrub it with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. This is an important first step to killing any bacteria that may be living on the containers’ surface.
If by chance you are able to soak your containers, do so for a minimum of 10 minutes before rinsing them out. A note about doing your cleaning on the balcony: be careful that you don’t send the chemical-laced water down onto your neighbour’s balcony.
Once this is done, get a scrubby steel wool or SOS pad. Use dish soap to scrub out the pot with hot soapy water. While you’re disinfecting your containers, it’s important to give your tools a good scrubbing as well. Anything that came into contact with the soil could potentially be carrying the virus.
There’s no sense doing all that work only to dig into clean soil with infected trowels.
Establish a Healthy New Crop
Once you’ve rid yourself of the problem soil and cleaned out your containers, start preparing for a new crop. You can’t guarantee that the virus won’t affect your new plants, but you can be sure that you’ve done everything possible to keep the virus at bay.
Start your seeds as you normally would. When they’ve matured to a point where you feel they are strong enough to withstand the elements, transplant them to your outdoor containers. Remember that the virus can be transmitted through pests that can come visiting on the wind. Use netting over your garden area to keep unwanted visitors out. Make sure you’re also diligent about weeding.
Some weed species can carry and transmit the virus. Mulching can help to keep down weed growth, so add that to your weekly “to-do” list. Mulch also protects your plants’ roots. If your balcony is anything like mine, you’ll need to make sure that your netting is secure so that it doesn’t blow away.
It’s important to know that the mosaic virus infects a number of different plants. The most notable ones are cucumbers, tomatoes, cauliflower and squash/zucchini. It can also affect flower species like zinnias and passionflowers. If you happen to be growing more than one type of plant on this list, keep these plants separated.
If one goes down and the others still appear to be unaffected, you may have a chance of saving some of your crop. This is why it’s so important to keep vulnerable species well spaced.
I know that losing plants year after year can be extremely disheartening. I’ve told myself “That’s it! I give up” on numerous occasions. But, once I’ve taken some time to rethink things, I always pledge to try again. Gardening is all about learning and “growing” from our mistakes.
Sometimes all you need is just one more try. So get rid of that bad dirt, clean out your containers, and get ready to grow your best cucumber plant ever.