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Deterring Squash Bugs and Vine Borers

 

Squash Bugs and Vine Borers…even the words make me shudder. Hot Florida weather comes at a cost. The bug population this spring and summer has been overwhelming to say the least. Organic gardening in this climate has posed some definite challenges.

Squash bugs appeared to cover my squash by the thousands while vine borers attacked at the vine level. Through the first bout of vine borers, I cut each growing vine at the base and removed each and every worm. I had great results.  But, when round 2 came these 3′ vines were now 12′ vines and were overtaken all throughout the stems. There was  no way to physically pull them on round 2 and I lost that battle.  Before making it 1/4 of the way through my beautiful vines the borers began to indulge in the fruits of my labor. Even the resistant butternut was overcome and the insides hollowed out. Still yet, I  managed to harvest over 60. I burned all the vines and infected fruit, destroying the borers that remained. As you can see, I was not successful in my burn attempt. I threw some gas on the green vine pile and did not know there was a spark of fire hiding in its depths. The fire ran upstream and ignited the gas tank in my hand, causing it to explode and throw gasoline all over my front. Standing in the middle of the fire, somehow only my hand took the damage. Amazing. Anyhow, I finally admitted defeat and threw up my white flag to the vine borers on my trip to the ER that night.

One unknown spark in burnpile + gas = 3rd degree burns

I took these minutes before the accident

Yellowing Leaves are a sign of Vine Borers

 

Vine Borer inside the vine

I have exhausted just about every logical method to eradicate Mr. Borer. All crops were covered shortly after planting seed with Reemay, yet were still infested. Many other recommendations online such as  each vine were impractical in such a large garden and the side notes always say, “may not work.” My thought is to plant a late August crop which is possible in Florida with our long season. Our northern friends can avoid the borer by planting veggies in the Moschata family such as butternuts. Gourds like Cucuzzi and Luffa are edible when small and are great substitutes for Zucchini.  Northern areas don’t seem to have such dramatic borer infestations in the south and Moschata counterparts are normally not bothered by these insects in those regions.

Squash bugs need to be controlled a.s.a.p. The eggs are noticeably seen on the underside of the leaves in your garden. They are  maroonish to brown in color and remind me of strawberry seeds for some reason. There will be several laid together. Destroy these as they will hatch promptly. Small squash bugs are easy to kill when young but the adults are hard to destroy. Their population grows quickly. The bugs can be hard to spot. They will run around the leaves as you move them, staying out of sight and they are fast. If you lay a board or newspaper out in the garden, they tend to collect under them at night, making for easier eradication. Signs of Squash Bugs in your garden are black wilted leaves.

I planted our giant sunflowers near the squash this year (those beauties grew to 8′) and it helped cut down on these bugs considerably. Squash Bugs, Stink Bugs, and the adult Vine Borer Moth (which kind of resembles a wasp)  are all attracted to sunflowers. Each day the flowers were covered in these bugs. Fill a bucket with soapy water, and throw the bugs into the bucket. It kills them fast. Also be on the lookout for Squash Bug eggs on the leaves. Dunking your sunflower heads in the bucket may seem quicker than plucking the bugs off but the wetness will cause molding of the heads. Picking them off really doesn’t take long. There were so many on ours I could grab them by the handful.  After a few days you will notice a LOT less of the little boogers.

How to Grow Tomatoes From Seed

   

Have you ever had bad luck growing tomato plants from seed? You planted your seed and eagerly awaited juicy homegrown sandwich slices or savory spaghetti sauce. The seedlings emerged from the ground and you helplessly watched them turn into spindly threads that died.  Sound familiar? You’re not alone.  

Growing tomatoes from seed is surprisingly simple, but there are a few extra steps you will have to take.  

First of all, tomatoes should be started indoors 6-8 weeks prior to your last frost date.  

Make sure you are using STERILE potting mix. If you use just any dirt, it could cause your plant to dampen off (fall over and die unexpectedly). I sterilize my own dirt. This process is easy. Simply fill a oven-safe container with dirt and bake or place in grill at 350° F for about 30 minutes. If I skip this process, I will have at least a 10% loss.  

As SOON as they seedlings begin to emerge from the dirt put them under light. Light from a windowsill IS NOT ENOUGH LIGHT. You will have to place your seedlings under a special grow light or under a florescent light, similar to one you would have in your garage or kitchen. Regular florescent lights will work fine, but your plant will need to be within 1″ of the bulb for 16-18 hours per day. This can be tricky as some plants can grow faster than others. In the picture below you can see a light in our little shed/barn I have dropped. I grab whatever is handy to tweek the height between my 2 week and 6 week old plants. It does not need to be fancy, although now that I am sharing these pictures I’m wondering if I could have used something more pleasing to the eye rather than the toolboxes. 🙂  

 

Under the shop light

Bringing the plants up 1" from light

Water your plants as needed but do not drown them. Wait until the soil is dry all the way through (a moisture meter works well for this and can be purchased in any garden center). Not bone dry but it should not appear damp or feel damp to the touch.  If you let it get too dry for too long, your plant will begin to wilt. Too much watering will also kill so find a happy medium.  

Some people suggest brushing the seedlings with your hands for a few minutes per day, gently grazing the tops of the leaves and stem with the palms of your hands. This is supposed to make the plant stem stronger. However, I have never used this method and have still had very sturdy and healthy plants.  

Another common recommendation is the use of a fan to circulate air. This will help prevent disease. I leave my shed doors open several hours a day to allow fresh air to enter and do not use a fan. I have never encountered problems. If you plants are in a non-ventilated area with no way of opening it up to some fresh air, you may want to consider using a fan.  

If you planted your seedlings in seed trays or close to one another you will want to transplant them once into about a 3″ pot or a few into one larger pot (equally spaced). Make sure this soil is sterile or sterilize your own.  

Two weeks before you plan to transplant your tomatoes outdoors you will need to “harden” them off. This means that you will introduce them to the outdoor elements slowly. Never introduce your plant into direct sunlight, as it will rapidly wilt (sometimes within as little as 10 minutes) and die. Start by putting your plant in the shade for an hour a day and increasing that time every day until your plant can remain outdoors all day and night. Check them frequently for any signs of wilting or drooping. If you do find any signs of wilting, move them to a safer place immediately. Do not wait too long to begin the hardening off process. The longer you wait to harden off a plant, the harder it becomes.
 
After planting your tomatoes in the garden there are a few things to remember:
 
Avoid using too much nitrogen. If you use fertilizer high in nitrogen, you may end up with beautiful 8′ plants that bear no fruit. I till organic compost into the ground weeks before planting and never fertilize my tomatoes.
 
Supply calcium to your plant to prevent premature fruit rotting. You can crush egg shells (great source of calcium) and  bury them around your plants. You can even use human calcium tablets (vitamins) and soak them in water until they completely dissolve then pour mixture on roots of your plants. However you supply calcium, make sure you do it! You don’t want to end up with tomatoes that have suddenly rotted at harvest time.
 
Every time you transplant your seedling to a bigger pot and perhaps eventually to the garden, bury it deeper than the last container. The buried portion of the stem will root, providing the plant with a strong root system.
 
Grow your tomatoes in different locations every year. Crop rotation helps cut down on potential diseases.
 

Tomato and Eggplants