Friday, August 19, 2011
Gaining Ground in the Battle on Squash Pests - maybe.
It isn't just zucchini either, growing squash has become war, and I fear I am on the losing side. We are waging a chemical free war here, but I think the bugs may be smarter than I am. It was so bad last year that I swore I was not going to plant anything in the squash family this year. But then spring came and I started thinking about grilled veggies, stuffed zucchini, zucchini brownies, zucchini struedel, fresh pumpkin, and well, before I knew what I was doing hills of dirt were made and seeds were going into the ground.
The more I do this organic gardening thing, the more I am convinced the my best weapons are careful observation and quick action when pests are observed. This is the strategy I tried to implement with the squash this year. The squash have two enemies; squash bugs and vine borers.
The adult squash bugs are elusive. They are a gray color and tend to hang out in the dirt where they are well camouflaged. I mostly see them on the actual plants in the cool of the morning. If I see them, I squish them or drop them into a jar of water with dish detergent.
Their eggs however, are more easily found. Look for copper colored eggs on the leaves. Most often they are on the underside of the leaf, but sometimes on the top. The eggs are hard to squash. I remove the leaf and the eggs and feed it to the chickens or drop it in water with dish detergent.
The newly hatched bugs have gray or greenish bodies. They almost look like a tiny spider. They are easily smashed.
While I can't claim victory over squash bugs, and can claim containment. They are there, but by removing the eggs and destroying of the bugs that I do see, I am able to keep them from doing serious damage to the plants.
The deadly enemy to my squash are the vine borers. Adult vine borers are moths. They resemble a red wasp. I rarely see them, and if I do, I never can kill them. They are too fast. They lay tiny black eggs on the stems of the plant. I've looked for the eggs. I've removed a few things that may have been eggs, but then again maybe they were just dirt.
I don't know I have a vine borer until I see something like the picture to the right. See the yellow stuff that looks like chewed fibers. Yep, that is the evidence of a vine borer. Or if it is dry it will look something like sawdust.
When the stem is cut open, you'll find a white grub like worm with a black head. The one pictured on the left is a pretty big one. The tiny ones can be hard to see.
The only thing I know to do when these bugs are found is to split open the stem and destroy the bugs. This works pretty well if the borer is only in a leaf stem. When they are in the main stem of the plant, you can split it and mend the stem by covering it with dirt or wrapping it up, but the plant is severely weakened.
The first time I found borers this year, I split the stems, destroyed the borers, and covered the stems with dirt. The plants came through this nicely. They stayed upright and green. They looked healthy, but fruit production came to an abrupt halt. I wasn't able to keep up the borer vigil, and the next time I checked over the zucchini they were so infested with borers that I pulled all but one plant. It is so frustrating. My next step is to replant, and try again.
Another thing I noticed this year is the pumpkins are coming through these attacks better than the zucchini or summer squash. I have not been able to keep as close of a watch on the pumpkins, and vine borers are there. The pumpkin vines put down roots that seem to take up the slack where the borers have attacked. Maybe I should try a vining variety of zucchini?
The war is on, and though I think I gained a little ground this year, the bugs definitely have the advantage. Any one have a secret weapon they'd like to share?
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