By Cheryl Long
Some years ago, I wrote a report about research done at Texas A&M that found trap crops of early plantings of squash could attract “up to 90 percent of squash bugs in the area.” The key is to plant a few pots of squash indoors, earlier than your usual timing (the bugs are reportedly most attracted to winter squash varieties), then move the plants into the garden as soon as you can. Overwintering squash bugs will make a beeline for them (who knows how they find these plants — bugs are so amazing). The researchers suggested laying a few boards on the ground around the trap crop and then turning the boards over and squishing the bugs that like to hide on the undersides. Delay sowing your main crops as long as you can, continuing to squish the bugs that show up at the trap crop.
We’ve come up with what we think might be an improvement on that technique: a “Squash Bug Squisher”! Instead of just using whatever is handy to squish the bugs on each board, we’re thinking it would be quicker and more effective if you connected two boards together with hinges, so you could pick up the Squisher, flip it over and slam the two boards against each other. The boards will have to be very flat — we’re thinking that fiber cement siding, which is highly resistant to warping and heavier than wood, might work well.
We invite you to try this homemade technique for squash bug control, and report your results below. Reports on other squash bug control methods that have worked for you are also welcome. Happy gardening!
p.s. Check out our article Growing Winter Squash for growing tips and advice about fun varieties to try.
UPDATE: A few MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers tried the Squash Bug Squisher and emailed us their feedback:
“I laid out some boards to attract the bugs and found some there; however, I still lost my yellow squash and zucchini which are from the Cucurbita pepo family. In the fall, I had a volunteer yellow squash and had no insect problems with it. This spring, I will be trying other squash families (Cucurbita moschata, Cucurbita maxima, etc.) that don't have problems with the squash bugs. In the fall, I will try growing yellow squash (C. pepo).” — Ed Nance
“I made up a Squash Bug Squisher. It worked well. I only killed a few, but the fewer the better! I will try again this summer.” — John Hoepfner
After reading the instructions on how to make a Squash Bug Squisher, many readers were happy to share additional tips. Here are some of our favorites:
“Rather than using Cucurbita pepo family of squash (yellow squash, etc.), consider using plantings from the Cucurbita moschata or Cucurbita maxima families of squash, which are more resistant. I have tried the boards and found cucumber beetles the first time under them the first time I checked, but none since.” — Ed Nance
“We have used old newspapers (several pages folded into long strips) and had fair results. Simply check them once a week, roll them up and incinerate them, using the ashes as an addition to your compost. The board trick is a good idea!” — Chef Todd
“Oh, this inspires me to limericize:
In Miss Fisher’s squash garden, quite posh,
Two squash bugs were looking for squash.
The crafty Miss Fisher
Used her hinged squash-bug squisher,
And squished those two squash bugs, by Gosh!” — Lon and Nancy Reid
“Bugs find plants by SMELL. No secret! Cover the scent of the squash plant and they will totally miss it! You must plant many herbs and flowers in the organic garden. The scents blend together and confuse bugs. I am testing lemon grass in my garden this year.” — Larry Vogel
“[The Squash Bug Squisher] is a good idea, but I still like my hammer.” — Doug Elam
“I am much too squeamish to squish bugs, so my garden was just wiped out last year. But my friend’s dad invented a method that is so simple, so fast — it’s pure genious! I imagine he probably resorted to this in a fit of frustration. He just filled his Shop-Vac with a few inches of water, sucked up, and drowned all those nasty little buggers. Isn’t that brilliant? Talk about fast — and no icky guts! I'm thinking about trying it — carefully — on aphids!” — Chloie Leavitt
“You forgot to mention to have your chickens or ducks help by eating the bugs!” — Rich Laren
A couple of good slug control tips worth sharing came in the comments, too:
“I have just started using building lime to protect my seedlings from slugs and it seems to work. Building lime Ca(OH)2 is alkaline and the slugs will not cross it. After about a week it turns to limestone CaCO3 through reaction with the air in the presence of moisture (so you just sprinkle some more then). I have been spreading it thinly — just a dusting. You have to be careful with building lime: Don't breathe in the dust or get it on your hands because it is caustic. But birds and animals are not going to eat it like normal slug bait.” — Brian White
“I remember gardening in Oregon and having to open the Slug Bar each spring and early summer until it got too hot for them. Basically, a coffee can with holes in the side set in the ground with cheap beer in the bottom. They are lushes after all. I kept the good beer for my own medicinal purposes.” — Norm Nyburg