As high tunnel vegetable production acreage increases in the United States, so does the need for management strategies tailored to their unique growing environment. Cucumbers are an ideal crop in these systems; they can be vertically trellised to maximize the production area and provide high yields to balance the increased costs associated with high tunnel construction.
One of the most limiting factors in cucurbit production in general is the cucumber beetle complex and the bacterial pathogen they transmit. In a new study, researchers investigated the optimal size of netting installed on high tunnels to prevent cucumber beetle colonization while maintaining ventilation to reduce heat stress.
Of the three mesh sizes investigated across 4 yr, the intermediate mesh with a pore size of 0.72 × 0.97 mm was optimal to exclude cucumber beetles, maintain ventilation, and produce the highest yields for both cucumber and melon plants. The smallest (0.16 mm2) and intermediate mesh sizes resulted in secondary pest outbreaks (e.g., aphids), which did not occur in open tunnels and to a lesser extent in tunnels covered with the largest (1.00 × 4.00 mm) mesh.
Despite these secondary pests, yield was higher in small- and intermediate-sized mesh treatments due to relief from cucumber beetle infestations, including striped (Acalymma vittatum Fabr. (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae)) and spotted (Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi Barber (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae)) beetles.
Overall, the researchers conclude that insect exclusion netting is an effective method to exclude cucumber beetles from high tunnels, but mesh size should be carefully considered when weighing the collective effects on yield and primary/secondary pest abundance.