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Quite Contrary Gardens

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Squash bug nymphs

Squash bug nymphs

“Know thine enemy.”  Good combat advice from old Lao Tsu, and great gardening advice, too.  And in gardening, as well as politics, the enemy changes with the season.  Two years ago, I was plagued by an army of blister beetles bent on destroying every last tomato and eggplant.  Last season, I was doing battle with the harlequin bugs on the brassicas, the sunflowers, and the rutabagas.  This year it is becoming clear that the enemy du jour is the squash bug.

Pictured above is a bevy of tiny squash bug nymphs, recently hatched from the bronzey-copper colored eggs that the females generally lay in rows along the veins of cucurbit leaves (though sometimes you will find them along the stems).  The brown, shield shaped adults are shy and fast-moving, and so are not often spotted on my morning and evening bug checks, but their damage has been evident in the form of yellow and brown patches on the leaves and wilting of young plants without any other apparent cause.

Since heavy infestations can kill young plants or prevent plants from setting fruit, handling this problem has become priority numer one in the garden.  Control involves inspecting leaves and removing and destroying eggs, killing any nymphs with spot treatments of insecticidal soap (although the ones pictures above I simply squashed- squashed the squash bugs, ha!), and handpicking adults and drowing them in a jar of soapy water.  The last measure is the most difficult because of the bugs’ aforementioned speed and shyness, but I’ve learned a neat trick for finding them.  In the evenings, I lay a flat wooden board next to the squash plants.  The bugs crawl under for shelter during the nights, and in the morning I remove the board and catch them all in their beds.

Now, I think I know why the pesky insects are plaguing me this year, and it was sheer stupidity on my part.  I know, I know that allowing self-sown squash seedlings to grow in the garden is a mistake– it’s one I’ve made before.  But, when a little patty-pan plant came up in the same spot as last year, I caved to my sentiments and let the thing keep growing.  That’s where the infestation started and now I’ve had to go ahead and yank that plant and two young zucchinis and who knows if I’ll manage to win out against these things in the end.  Next year, I promise to learn from my (repeated) mistakes and set my squash out late, well after the squash bugs have emerged from their winter hiding places and found other plants on which to munch.

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