My Battle Against Squash Vine Borers Gets Ugly

Reader Contribution by Colleen Vanderlinden
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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:

July 13th:

July 29th:

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.