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My Battle Against Squash Vine Borers Gets Ugly

If you've had problems with squash vine borers, you'll probably relate to the story I'm about to tell. If you haven't had problems with them yet, (lucky you) here is a glimpse of what's in your future!

We planted what we're calling "the pumpkin patch" in our side yard. Last year, the side yard was planted up with tomatoes and cucumbers. This year, it's pumpkins, melons, and summer squash. We're growing three varieties of pumpkins: 'Howden,' which is a traditional, jack o'lantern-type pumpkin; 'Long Island Cheese,' which is beautiful tan pumpkin that is absolutely delicious for making pumpkin pies; and 'Galeaux d'Eysines,' a French heirloom whose pinkish rind and bumpy texture just seem perfect for Halloween.

We started the seeds indoors, and transplanted them into the side yard in late May. Here's a progression of how the pumpkin patch has shaped up over the last few months:

June 22nd:

Pumpkin Patch June 22 

July 13th: 

Pumpkin Patch july 13 

July 29th:

Pumpkin Patch july 29 

So, it's looking good, and growing nicely, and there are several little pumpkins forming. But it took some ugliness to get to this point.

A few weeks ago, when my husband was watering this area, we both spotted it at the same time: the red body and dark gray wings of an adult squash vine borer moth, fluttering above our pumpkin patch. My husband sprayed it with the hose, knocking it out of the air, then he squashed it. Score one for the gardeners.

But our victory was short-lived. Every time we went outside, we'd see at least two or three of the demons (is there any doubt they're evil? -- red devils!) fluttering around. If we had the hose in hand (as we did for much of July, it seemed) we'd use the spray, knock down, and squish method.

We started seeing holes, and frass at the base of the vines, meaning the adults had laid their eggs, the eggs had hatched, and the larvae had burrowed into our plants. Thus began the slitting of vines and the removal of said larvae, in all of their milky white, grubby grossness. As we slit and removed, we also buried the damaged section of vine with additional soil, hoping that the vines would root in several places and heal from the damage.

I Reach the End of My Rope 

After a couple of weeks of this, I admit that I lost it. One day, out in the garden in the sweltering +90 degree heat and stifling Michigan humidity, I spied several of the moths hovering in the garden. I had the hose there. I could have used our spray and stomp method.

But I had reached a point where what I can only describe as bloodlust took over.

I stomped (sweating, of course) over to the pumpkin patch, and stood over where one of the demons was hovering. Then I brought my hands together in a mighty clap of squash bug death. Yes. I got over the grossness factor of squishing a bug in my bare hands (something I've sworn, in the past, that I'd never do because it's just too gross) and killed not one, but four bugs that day in a fit of squash bug-induced rage.

I can only wonder what my non-gardening neighbor thought as she got in her car, watching me smash bugs between my palms.

At this point, we're past prime squash bug season. We see maybe one a week now. The plants have recovered, but I have not. I have officially lost any squeamishness about bugs. There is no going back, and I'm thinking that this is probably a good thing. Gardening is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart, anyway.

marina pushkareva
2/14/2012 12:16:03 AM

It is not funny, if you actually lost your battle...Tamara Hanson wrote: "Grow only cucumis moschata species of squashes: butternut, tromboncino (a summer style one), Long Island Cheese, Musque de Provence, Seminole, Black Futsu etc. Their stems are resistant to squash vine borer." I tried to grow butternut, it was destroyed also, as well as zucchinis (3 different varieties, early and late summer planting), planted and volunteered winter squash..... Next year I am planning to grow them vertically. Someone said it is easier to "collect" bugs that way. :(

cindy morrissey
2/13/2012 8:36:14 PM

LOL! Too funny! Thanks for a great laugh!

tamara hanson
12/5/2011 4:14:50 AM

Squash Vine Borer are one of the most common problems but not hard to cure. Try one of these suggestions.1. try planting later to screw up their cycle. 2. Use floating row cover until about a week after the first flowers appear. 3. Use nylons, cut at both ends to cover the stem area and pull up as they grow. Some people use aluminum foil instead. 4. Grow only cucumis moschata species of squashes: butternut, tromboncino (a summer style one), Long Island Cheese, Musque de Provence, Seminole, Black Futsu etc. Their stems are resistant to squash vine borer. 5. For summer squash, not long maturing pumpkins, have seedlings to replace the dying earlier plants if they succumb to SVB. 6. Use a syringe to inject bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) into the stem. It kills the larva but if the vine has holes the Bt drains out those and doesn't hit the larva. Good luck!

scott hokunson
8/3/2011 2:06:32 PM

You go Colleen! We've been battling them here along with a dose of powdery mildew. All the squash plants and vines are suffering, but with you as our champion, I feel inspired. I only hope ours will recover also.

colleen vanderlinden
8/3/2011 12:48:38 PM

Thanks, Marian! Isn't that the rub? By the time we've gotten them, they've usually managed to either munch to their hearts' content or lay eggs (which means we'll have more battling ahead of us!) Thanks for reading!

7/30/2011 4:01:57 PM

This is so funny. I completely get it! Sometimes the bugs in my garden are so big I can see their eyes and they know Death is coming. I just send them to bug heaven. Saddly they usually go with full bellies.....