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With spring vegetable gardens comes pests

April 28, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 27, 2010 at 11:28 p.m.


By Laurie Garretson

April is the time for spring vegetable gardens. More and more people are growing their own fruits and vegetables and doing it organically. Unfortunately, with a garden comes pests. This time of year, there are many questions about battling all these unwanted creatures.

If you have grown squash, cucumbers, melons or gourds you probably know what a squash bug is.

This pest looks like a long, dark brown stink bug with fine hairs on its flat abdomen. These pests usually spend most of their time on the underside of leaves or around the base of the plant.

Squash bugs are insects with a sucking mouth piece, and that's just what they do with it. They suck nutrients from plants, and this action then disrupts the flow of water and nutrients to other areas of the plant. This causes leaves to wilt and already stressed or immature plants can die.

As squash bugs inject their mouth piece into the plants to suck out juices, they also can inject different types of harmful bacteria. This bacteria can lead to diseases that will cause leaves to wilt or blacken. Many times plants become so infected that there is a severe loss of production or in many cases the plant dies.

Many gardeners plant several succession plantings of squash to replace any that might be destroyed from pests or diseases. Some gardeners like to use floating-row covers to keep pests away and then hand pollinate the plants themselves.

Some prefer to grow their squash vertically instead of sprawled directly on the ground and report much less trouble from pests.

Once you have the squash bugs, you can use natural plant based produces to help control them; products like Neem Oil and Orange Oil.

Another pest we need to watch for on our squash plants are squash bores. These guys come from a dark gray moth with red hind legs. Unlike most moths that usually fly at night, this one will fly all around the plants during the day.

The moth lays small, brown, individual eggs on the leaves and the plant stalk. An egg will hatch within a week, and the small worm immediately bores into the base of the plants stem. The worm travels up the stalk feeding on the plant for several weeks. This will cause plants to severely wilt and die.

To prevent squash bores, keep natural products like Dipel powder sprinkled around the base of each of the plant stems. This is a powder form of the BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) product that's safe to use in the garden and only harms worms. With one bite of this product, any worm will die.

Keep a close watch on the base of your plant stems. A sawdust-like material at the base of the stem will indicate a squash bore. Once the worm is in the stem, you can inject some liquid BT into the stem with a large hypodermic needle.

I have heard of gardeners who carry a Shop Vac around with them while in their gardens to suck up squash bugs, squash bore moths and any other pests they might encounter.

Others claim to have great success with using guineas. Guineas love bugs like squash bugs. Just two guineas can eliminate a lot of pests.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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