Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Battling the Enemy

I always get a little alarmed when I see squash leaves that look shrively, like this:

...instead of perky and happy with life, like this:

At first, I though it could be lack of water, since we seem to be going into a drought again. But then I noticed that it was only one vine that was looking sad, and it was not just a "little wilty."

I knew right away who to blame.

My enemy.

My arch-nemesis.

My greatest garden guerrilla.

That abundant adversary.

That deep defiler.

August assailant!

Inordinate invader.

Prominent PEST!


Okay, maybe not all things. Pretty much just the winter squash.

But it is still representative of the numerous bugs that plague my precious crops.

So it pretty much gets to bear the brunt of my wrath.

It's the squash vine borer. (Public service announcement: do not click that link unless you are feeling particularly strong of stomach. Better yet, don't do a Google image search, either.)

Yes, the grubby little squash vine borer, and I hate them with every fiber of my squash-lovin' little heart.

And I love squash an awful lot.

It's one of my very favorite vegetables. (Okay, so every vegetable is my favorite. Except celery. Yuck, bleck, bleaaaah!)

The squash vine borer has been determined to deprive me, year after year after squash-deprived year, from (one of) my favorite vegetables.

And so we are at war.

He may have one many battles, but he has not won the war.

Fortunately for you, I do not presently posses a photograph of this mangy little beast. I do have a photo of the damage one has already inflicted on one of my squash vines:

These irritating insects fly around and lay their eggs at the very base of squash plants, right at the stem where it comes out of the ground, and at various intervals for the first foot or so of the plant. The eggs hatch, and the little worm burrows into the stem where it eats, and grows and eats and grows and leaves in it's wake a weakened plant and copious amounts of nasty, yellow worm poop. Eventually, the plant has no more connection with the ground and it dies. Usually, it dies before the fruit is mature, leaving it's poor, orphaned babies to die attached to lifeless umbilical cords.

Yes, it is THAT tragic.

My main defense in the past has been to look for the nasty, yellow, worm poop and cut into the stem with a knife to find and remove the fat, white grub. Then I feed it to the chickens and laugh maniacally.

Lather, rinse, repeat through multiple worms in multiple vines.

I heap the soil over the wound to help the plant re-root. Sometime, this is successful, but sometimes it is too far gone. Sometimes, there are so many grubs that I can't possibly get them all.

I've also tried sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the base of the plant, but it washes off, and it's hard to get it on the underside of the vine where the grub is perfectly happy to bore in.

This year I laboriously wrapped the stems in old pantyhose (man, I hate that word. Ugh. Pantyhose. Shudder.) to try to keep them from getting in.

It didn't work.

I've been told I should start my plants in the house so the get an earlier start and can resist the borer.

That doesn't work, either. The borer just figures that's an even bigger and juicier plant to parasitize.

I have recently come across the thing that I think will be key to my victory over this pest. Knowledge is power, people, and now I KNOW SOMETHING. I hope I have not learned it too late for this year (though I fear it's close, as evidenced by the damaged plant in the photo above...).

Squash vines will form roots at the leaf nodes along the stems. If I heap soil over the vines at intervals, they will grow extra roots to support the plants and keep the fruit growing even after the borer has killed the base of the plant.

Brilliant, I tell you, BRILLIANT!!!!


This technique is a little difficult to use now that the plants are so big and tangled and the ground is so hard from lack of rain. Also, I'm not sure if there is time for them to grow adequate roots before the borers take over.

But I'm still gonna give it my best shot.

Even if I don't have complete victory this time, it's so close... I can just taste it.


  1. you have solved a dilemma for me too. I had no idea what was attacking them at the root like that. I lose plants every year too. think of a mass attack, search and destroy!
    Come and look at the bread I'm baking.

  2. so far my nemesis' are slugs and earwigs messing up my greens, and other unidentified pests knawing on my zucchini. I'll be keeping an eye out for those nasty vine borers too.

  3. Brilliant!!

    Great post. So educational and I love the alliteration. You are a nut. A brilliant nut!

    You also have a lot more tenacity than I. I would not dig grubs out of my plants. I would buy squash at the store!