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Quite Contrary Gardens

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Category Archives: Edibles

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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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Every year I like to try something new in the garden.  Or rather, many, many new things.  I guess I’m fickle, but there are only a handful of veggies that I absolutely must plant every single year, like my beloved Louisiana Long Green eggplant.

Otherwise, I like to experiment.  New flavors, new textures, new colors, I’m all about the new.  This year I’m trying Long Purple Cayennes, Pepino melons, Black Futsu squash, White Wonder watermelons, and Tatume squash for the first time.  The Tatume is the only one close to eating thus far.  This cute little Curcubita pepo is from Mexico and is/was quite popular in the American Southwest, though it is becoming harder and harder to find from what I understand.  The plant is vining and very vigorous, putting down roots where the nodes touch the ground– a life-saving strategy in the arid climate it comes from and a healthy boon here in the Mid Atlantic.  So far this season, the plants are doing well under the onslaught of rain, rain and more rain.  No borers, just a squash bug or two sighted.  This first little squash at right should be ready to pick in a day or so when it reaches the size of a tennis ball.  I understand they are delicious, great baked or stuffed. 

I’ll be sure to report back with a full and happy belly.

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Despite the cool, wet spring and the late start, there are vegetables coming along in the garden after all. This Chinese Yellow Cucumber should be ready to harvest soon.

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