In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. ~ Proverbs 3:6

Monday, August 8, 2016

RIP Squash and Zucchini Plants ~ What you need to know about Squash Vine Borers

Last summer we decided to start a garden for the first time.  We built our own boxes of raised beds in our small backyard garden.  We found it required very little maintaining, and we didn't seem to have any issues with garden pests.  I shared some of our first-time garden experiences on my blog last year.   

With the exception of fungus issues in early summer, from an over abundance of rain, our garden was very successful.  We tackled the fungus issue, and found ourselves reaping the benefits of planting for months to come.  We had an abundance of cucumbers, squash and zucchini all the way through the first freeze in October, and we got two yields of green beans!  It was fantastic!
And then there is this year.  Year two started out great.  It wasn't very wet, so we didn't deal with the fungus.  Everything looked great.....was growing great....and was producing great fruit!  We had several weeks of squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans and peppers.  Even the tomatoes were looking good this year.  But then, something happened around the mid-July.  It would be the first of our garden issues this year.

About a month ago, I noticed my beautiful squash and zucchini plants that had been producing much fruit, all of sudden starting to wilt.  We had just had a bad storm the night before with high winds and hail, and so I thought that maybe the damage was a result of the storm, as it almost looked like the stems were exposed and starting to uproot?

Not realizing I had a much more serious problem than storm damage, I had my husband cover up the base of the stems with more soil.  As a result, new shoots started coming out of the soil, but the original plant was dying.  I couldn't quite figure out what was going on?  Then the following weekend, the new shoots started to wilt.

When I finally went out to examine the plants, I noticed we had an infestation of squash bugs.  Ok, so that was not good, but it wouldn't kill the plants that fast?  So I started researching, and discovered my plants had the symptoms of squash vine borers!  As I examined my plants further, I noticed that the bases of the plants did indeed have the "saw dust" type residue from the larvae entering the vines.  And sure enough, when I cut open a stalk, I saw these disgusting looking white larvae eating away my plants!!!

Squash vine borers?  What the heck was that?  Well, it's not good, I can assure you.  When you read terms like "gardeners worst nightmare" or "gardeners loath squash vine borers", you know it's bad stuff.

Basically, I was dealing with moths that lay eggs at the base of squash plants in late spring/early summer.  The eggs hatch a few weeks later.  Once hatched the larvae eat their way into the base of the plants.  These caterpillars feed on the plant for 1-2 weeks, killing the plants, then return to the soil to cocoon over the winter, and the vicious cycle starts all over again.

I was heart-broken, as I knew from my research all I could do at this point was to tear out my plants and try to clear the soil for next year!  I tell ya, I was taking this personally!  No more zucchini breads, cookies or cakes!  No more zoodles!   No more fried squash, sautéed squash, squash cakes!  And it was still July!  This pests took two months of my gardening season away from me!  We eat zucchini and squash every week, so I'd have to start buying them again, which I was not a fan of doing!  I was determined to learn all could about borers and try to prevent them from invading my garden next year.

I spent an entire day researching squash vine borers.  I quickly discovered that my plants were far too gone to help them.  However, I did gain much knowledge on this dreaded garden pest, that some would call a gardeners worst nightmare, and learned three important bits of information:

~ getting rid of these pests is near impossible, due to the fact that once they are discovered the damage has already been done.

~ once you've had an infestation, they are likely to return the next year, due to the fact that they overwinter in the soil each year.

~ preventing the pests from attacking your garden is the best way to avoid and control squash vine borer.

Here are six preventative measures I plan to take in my garden next year to lower my risks of having a repeat infestation of squash vine borers.

1) Plant in a different area each year....

We have a small back yard garden with raised beds.  The entire garden is close together, but I do plan on planting my squash and zucchini in different boxes next year.

2) Clean up soil in the fall....

One of the problems with these pests is that they overwinter and come back each year, by cocooning a few inches below the soil. Plowing the soil in the fall is supposed to help kill them.  I think we are going to go a step further by completely digging out our soil in the infested boxes and having new soil and fertilizer delivered next spring.  That's a bit of an expense, but I am willing to do anything necessary to not have to deal with this nasty infestation again next year.

3)  Protect new plants with garden tents until the first bloom.....

Because there is only supposed to be one life cycle of these garden pests in the northern states, gardeners can protect the young plants with garden tents.  Be sure to take the tents off once the plants start flowering, so they can pollinate and produce fruit.  Supposedly, the moths only lay their eggs in early summer before the first blooms, so ideally, by the time the plants are unprotected, the moths would have already laid eggs.
4)  Cover stems with aluminum foil or nylons......

Covering the plants with garden tents won't protect the plants if the moths have already cocooned in the soil.  Even though we will be cleaning up our soil this fall, there is still a chance we may have some eggs laid at the base of our plants next year.   The idea is that covering the base of the plant with aluminum foil or nylons is supposed to protect the plant from any larvae hatched from the eggs that eat the plants from the base.

5)  Sprinkle black pepper and diatomaceous earth......

I plan to sprinkle both of these at the base of each plant and reapply after it rains.  This is supposed to deter the pests from the plants.

6)  Keep of bowl of soapy water out to trap moths.....

Soapy water is supposed to attract and trap any moths, hopefully before eggs are laid.

7) Plant intermittently....

I do not plan on doing this, as my garden is small, and I only plant two yellow squash plants and three zucchini plants each year, which produce more than enough for my family of five.  But they say that if you plant a few plants, and then a few weeks later plant a few more plants, and so on and so on....that you should be producing some fruit all season, even if the borers infest your garden?

If for some reason my preventative measures fail, there are a few things I can do to help save the plant, but the trick is to catch the borer problem early, which is very hard to do. In my case this year, my plants were too far gone.

1) Cut the larvae out with a knife.....

2) Inject BT into the vines of the plant to kill the larvae.....

3) Keep adding soil around the damaged base for new shoots to come through.  The only issue with this is that if you still have an infestation, the new shoots will also become infected and die before they produce fruit.


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