Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.
Do you have any tips for getting rid of squash bugs?
I never use broad-spectrum insecticides in my garden — even if it means losing a crop — so the squash bug has been my biggest obstacle with squash crops. Its feeding spreads wilt diseases, which can kill the vines overnight; its reproductive prowess is awesome; and it is tough: Even when I was still using “organically approved” insecticides, such as of rotenone, Anasa tristis simply shrugged off my desperate applications.
Counter strategies that (just barely) worked for me: row covers to get the plants well started before the assault; succession plantings of summer squash (to replace earlier ones that succumbed after fruiting awhile); and growing winter squashes, which are (somewhat) more resistant. What a joy it was to discover a 100 percent organic, 100 percent effective control: Guinea power!
Unlike chickens, whose nonstop scratching would destroy the planting, guineas decimate the squash bugs only, not the plants.
Essential in the setup is ElectroNet (electric net fencing) around the planting, to confine the guineas to their work (clipping wings helps as well) and protect against predators. Also inside the net is a mobile shelter, of the sort I use to pasture my chicken flock — a secure place to roost at night, and a retreat from rain or sun. (To read more about how I manage pastured chickens, see Incredible Homestead Chickens.)
I plant the fast-growing squash before introducing the guineas, and monitor carefully. When the fat yellow blossoms begin to open, I see the first squash bug — and put in the guineas. (Just a few — maybe a trio, no more than four.) And that first squash bug I saw is also the last! This strategy truly does offer complete control.
The guineas never peck the growing fruits, of either the summer or winter squashes, though when they run among the sprawling winter squash vines, they nick or scrape the fruits lightly. But the growing rinds quickly callus over, and the mature fruits store perfectly.
If you are in a situation where guineas can free-range successfully, they will also keep the ground completely free of ticks. (A pair of guineas can keep an acre clear.) And home orchardists will be thrilled to see them take coddling moths right out of the air. To learn more about guineas and the insects they love, check out Go Ahead, Get Guineas.
Electric Fencing Resources:
— Harvey Ussery, organic gardening expert