The Current Cucurbit

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Mark Gleason
Plant Pathologist and Project Director
Iowa State University

Our goal is to be a source of useful ideas for growers of cucurbit crops – especially organic growers.

The main focus of our three-state (Iowa, Kentucky, and New York), three-year (2020-2022) project is on finding better ways to manage diseases, insect pests, and weeds in organic systems, and getting that information to growers. Our funding comes from USDA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).

Our research is aiming in two potentially complementary directions: 1) optimizing a barrier system called “mesotunnels” against insect pests and the bacterial diseases they carry; and 2) finding biological controls against bacterial diseases. Our field experiments are working with two crops, muskmelon and acorn squash, under organic management.

Mesotunnels. Mesotunnels, with a height of 36-42 inches, got their name because they are intermediate in scale between low tunnels and high tunnels. Like other barrier systems, they are intended to keep out pest insects and the pathogens they carry, as well as to prevent hail damage. Mesotunnels are supported by hoops made from electrical conduit, and use a nylon-mesh fabric similar to window-screen material as a cover. The nylon-mesh fabric doesn’t overheat the plants, so mesotunnels have the potential to provide season-long protection.

Biological control. Our plan is to use naturally occurring microbes to manage two bacterial diseases: bacterial wilt, caused by Erwinia tracheiphila, and cucurbit yellow vine disease (CYVD), caused by Serratia marcescens. We’re screening candidate bacteria and phages (bacterial viruses) for their potential to suppress these two cucurbit pathogens. The most promising candidates from this screening will be evaluated in field tests.

Socioeconomic analysis is another important part of the project. We’ll be assessing the results of the field experiments for potential profitability across a range of production scenarios. At the same time, we’ll be surveying and interviewing growers to learn how you view the pro’s and con’s of these new systems.

Our outreach efforts are already underway. We have on-farm trials during 2020 in all three states, testing variations of the mesotunnel system. We’re also building out the Current Cucurbit website with videos, a blog, a podcast series, and webinars. In-person outreach will start when the pandemic subsides.

Meanwhile, we hope you’ll stay in touch, through the website, by phone calls, emails, and social media. We value your advice, and welcome your input!

USDA ISU Cornell AgriTech University of Kentucky


Date of Publication: 
July, 2021