2018 Garden: Battling the Squash Vine Borer... again!02. July 2018
The garden is in full gear now! Every year I look at my tiny new seedlings and wonder how my garden will fare. Will I have a tomato hornworm infestation? Will my carrots germinate? Will my squash plants succumb to squash vine borers AGAIN? Will I say a few curse words? The answers to some of those questions is sometimes yes. And sometimes it’s #$@K Yes.
I’m growing pumpkins this year so I can harvest pepitas. I didn't realize until recently that there were specific pumpkins that had pepitas. Hulless pumpkin varieties have seeds without the hard outer shell. They aren’t known for having the best tasting flesh though. I planted Kakai Pumpkins because it supposedly has better than average flesh as far as hulless pumpkins go. Each pumpkin may yield up to 2 cups of pepitas. Will it be worth it to grow an overwhelming, vining plant just to eat the seeds (and possibly poor-tasting flesh)? We’ll see.
Actually, we’ll see if the pumpkins survive or not. I have always had horrible luck with squash vine borers. I hoped that by planting in a new bed, I would avoid them. Unfortunately, they are the worst of all garden pests for many gardeners. I even committed to never planting squash again last year. But apparently I didn’t listen to myself this year. Typical. At any rate, I’m being more proactive this year. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the adult moths flying around. Man, are they creepy jerks. The moth is sometimes mistaken for a wasp because it buzzes a little. So at least I had a heads up that they were starting to do their dirty work.
Adult Squash Vine Borer, Eggs, & Larvae
If your zucchini was thriving one day and wilting the next day, you may have squash vine borers. The adult moth lays eggs on the stems of squash plants (most squash, zucchini, pumpkins, and gourds). Borer moths lay eggs one at a time on stems. The eggs are often at the base of the plant, but I've found them all along the stems too. They are tiny rust colored eggs about the size of a pinhead. Their eggs looks similar to squash bugs' eggs (different from Squash Vine Borers). Squash bugs lay eggs in clusters under leaves. Remove those too! Check your plants every few days for new eggs and remove them before they hatch (7-10 days). I used a towel to wipe down my stems.
There are a number of prevention steps to try. Preventing the eggs from hatching is key as it may be too late once they hatch. I have checked my plants daily and removed several eggs. It’s easy to miss some eggs since they are so small and spread out on a sprawling plant. Some gardeners use row covers to prevent egg laying before moths appear. But only use the covers if you are sure they aren’t pupating in your soil from the previous year. If you use row covers, you’ll need to remove them to hand pollinate your plants.
You can also add diatomaceous earth around the base of the young plants (reapply after rains). I sprinkled coffee grounds around my plants as a deterrent. I’ve read that black pepper may also work. You can add aluminum foil or nylons to stems to create a barrier to thwart egg laying. The borer moths are attracted to yellow, so I put a yellow bowl of water out to catch them. So far I've swatted and killed more moths than the yellow water bowl has caught. Go Alison!
I also sprayed the plants with Bt (A natural insect control). This was the first time I used Bt. I had two small frayed holes on one of my stems, so I also injected Bt inside with a syringe. Initially I sliced open the stem to remove the larvae, but I couldn’t see them!! I’m not sure how effective Bt is on larvae, but it is supposed to kill the eggs. I covered the stems back up with compost. I was able to save one of my plants this year with this method.
Other ways to prevent squash vine borers is to plant later after their typical egg laying cycle. I first saw the adult moths the last week of June, but I think their emergence depends on temperature. If you are hardcore (more hardcore than me), you can release parasitic wasps to attack the moths. Release the wasps before egg laying begins. There are a few squash varieties resistant to vine borers, but I want ZUCCHINI dangit!!!! But I’m told I can’t have zucchini, so sayeth the all mighty squash vine borer. Who made him boss?!? This preventative maintenance better pay off, because it feels like a lot of work! Wish me luck!
And of course another great prevention tip is to practice proper plant rotation yearly. This holds true for the rest of your garden plants as well.
My new venture was planting carrots in a container instead of in my raised bed. This would free up much garden space to try a few new crops. Everything started off well for the carrot container. We had numerous rainstorms though, and my container became waterlogged. I had drainage holes on the bottom, but I also put newspaper in the bottom so soil wouldn't drain out onto my deck. I think the newspaper was making it drain too slowly. So I drilled a few extra holes on the front bottom edge of the container to release the flood gates! Whoosh!
My Black Nebula carrots had a lower rate of germination than the two other varieties I planted (Kuroda and Cosmic Purple). So I ended up hand transplanting some of the other varieties as I thinned them out. So I now have a jam-packed crate of carrots. I should have thinned them out a little more. There's some yellowing, dark spots, and some curled edges on a few. I think this might be Alternaria or Cercospora Leaf Blight. Not all of the carrots in my crate are affected. The Kuroda carrots are fine, and I've read that variety is resistant to this blight. So that's good. All the years I've grown carrots, I've only had issues with the roots on occasion, nothing with the leaves. So this stinks because I've really been digging carrot top pesto. YES, you can use the tops of carrots!!! Add them to salads, soups, or pesto. I use a basic pesto recipe with an added cup of carrot tops. The pesto has an earthier flavor. It’s a great way to use a part of the plant that usually gets tossed.
A couple of my carrots also had dog vomit slime mold. Yes, that does sound gross. It looks gross too. The mold is harmless to people and even plants. This fungus was also next door in my lettuce container. It can migrate with wind and water. It appears in wet and humid conditions, both of which we’ve had here. This is the first time I’ve ever had this fungus on plants. I have only seen it on mulch in the past. I pulled a few infected carrots out and used the tops in pesto. The carrots have a long way to go still. I just topped with extra compost too. I’m worried they will fork or split from overcrowding them. I may regret trying to cram so many in this container.
One last thing about my carrots. Two of them bolted and flowered a few months after planting. Carrots are biennials and should only flower the second year. From what I’ve read, they can flower the first year on rare occasions. This usually happens if it’s a dud plant. So it’s possible this won’t have much of a root. Bolting and flowering may occur with a cold spell. We didn’t really have super cold weather. If we did, I would expect more flowers. Black carrots may be more likely to flower in the first year too, so I’ve read. I wondered if this flower would seed, but it withered up a week after this photo. So no seeds! Bummer!
This was the smallest my tomato seedlings have ever been upon transplanting to my garden. Of course over half the stem is buried. That's the key to growing strong tomato plants. Deep planting allows roots to form all along the stem making the plant strong. The great thing about tomatoes is how fast they grow. Several weeks and a few rains works wonders. My seedlings had a rough start this year, and replanting seeds set me back weeks. Just look at them now! I also have dozens of volunteer plants around the garden. I should pull most of them, but I’m a sucker for volunteer plants.
Seriously, this bed is a mess!
I planted garlic for the first time last fall. I tried three soft neck varieties: Silver Rose, Nootka Rose, and Inchellum Red Soft Neck. The first few I dug up were small. Yikes! I was nervous they would all be tiny, but luckily one variety performed much better. Inchellum Red was about 3 times the size of the other two varieties I planted. Some of the cloves I planted were really small, so maybe that’s why the heads were smaller. I had plenty of compost in the soil and fed the garlic several times. Interestingly, the largest Inchellum Red heads were planted three weeks after the other varieties. Yet they grew so much larger. I will save some of the largest heads to plant this fall, and scope out some new varieties too.
Pole beans are also a new addition to my garden this year. I’m most excited about not having to bend over to get a face full of mosquitos as I pick beans. I used a salvaged vintage garden gate for one of my bean trellises. It's pegged into place with roof bolts from a coal mine. These bolts go into the roof of coal mines to help prevent a collapse. So yeah, they're pretty heavy duty. They should be stronger than the flim-flammy bamboo sticks I have on my other trellis. Fingers crossed it doesn't collapse. Either way, the garden is looking like a jungle already. If carrots would germinate as fast as green beans, I would be a happier gardener!
It's a jolly green jungle!
This is the first year I’ve had an herb garden. I only planted basil and dill in the past. But we fell in love with basil carrot top pesto, so it was a must to put in a few plants. I started four of the seven basil plants from seeds. The other plants came from the garden center. I also planted marjoram, thyme, and cilantro. The cilantro was started from seed, and it looks terrible. It’s just not growing. And it’s not even worth me showing you a photo of it. So just imagine it’s a really teeny tiny cilantro plant about 2 inches tall after several months of growing.
I have a mostly poor record of getting spinach to germinate. Last spring I planted Strawberry Spinach and it took a whopping 15 months to germinate. HA! I thought I had a bunch of weeds growing in my pot initially. So I have no idea how long the spinach was there before I noticed it. From what I gather, this plant will drop tons of seeds, and I'll never need to plant it again. Sounds good to me. Oh, and the red berries are edible. For the most part, the berries are bland. They do offer a nice crunch for salads though.
Lettuce usually never fails in my garden. I had a minor setback from a jerk groundhog who waddled over my freshly emerged lettuce. Then he came back a week later and mowed the lettuce down. Lettuce is surprisingly resilient though. And luckily I had a few containers of lettuce growing on the porch that he didn’t get. I planted Ice Queen Iceberg head lettuce this year that looked really pretty. I was waiting for it to form a head, but it never did. But then I waited too long and it bolted!!! Grrrr. I don’t know why it didn’t form a head? In fact, it looked nothing like the seed packet photo either. Grrrr.
One of my pet peeves is when a veggie doesn’t match the seed packet photo. Since I’m a graphic designer, I understand the printing process varies and photos don’t always come out great. But man, was I a little bummed by the difference of my Devil’s Ear Lettuce. Even though it doesn’t match the packet, it’s holding up well and tastes great. So it’s still a win…for me and the groundhog who ate half of it.
So that’s how this year’s garden is coming along. Tuna Fish Joe is looking forward to the carrot and green bean harvest. He loves kale, but that pesky groundhog nibbled it down. It hasn’t quite come back yet. I haven’t had the heart to tell him that his beloved kale might not make it this year.
How is your garden growing? What pests are you dealing with? What successes have you had?