A boring monster heartache.

I’m convinced that one of the hardest things to learn as a gardener/farmer is that no matter how hard or long you try, you will fail at growing something at some point in time.  And it appears that it doesn’t matter how good at growing you are, failure will happen.  But if this is the case, then why does it still hurt so much?  Maybe because more often than not, the flop was totally out of our control.  Mother Nature got the better of our garden.  Maybe its because we only had a small number of the plants leaving us empty handed in the wake of the loss.  Or possibly its the time and energy and nurture we give to tending our garden babies in hope of a delicious and prolific reward at the end.  Whatever the reason is for you, you aren’t alone.  Operator errors and Mother Nature disasters happen to all of us, and most recently it happened to the one zucchini plant (and one squash plant) I was growing.

svb zuke wilt

Wilted zucchini plant

I went out to my garden for my regular evening check the other day and was shocked when I saw a suddenly droopy zucchini.  I had seen it in the morning and everything looked fine.  Maybe a little yellow on a leaf or 2, but nothing to write home about.  But it was very clearly in trouble now.  I added some water and as the evening cooled off, the plant perked up a bit.  Then I noticed the base of the plant right about where it enters the soil … oh the horror!  Just looking at it, I knew bad things were afoot.  Googling and advice from some supportive, smart and successful gardening friends confirmed my worst squash and zucchini nightmares … the dreaded Squash Vine Borer! BORING to say the least!

svb zuke damage

Damage on the zucchini. The orange color is a mix of rot and frass (which is the residue/poop left behind from the squash vine borer munching).

These garden monsters are the pits and a tricky little devil too.  The Squash Vine Borer is a moth in its adult stage.  If one flew in my face, I’m fairly certain I thought it was a wasp and probably gave a girly scream and shooed it away.  It really takes a (calm) closer inspection to notice that they are a moth.  So they apparently come along and lay tiny eggs at roughly soil level on your summer squash and zucchini (though they can apparently do this to ANY squash, pumpkin, cucumber, or melon).  I think the summer squash and zucchini are a snacking favorite because they are easier for the larvae to navigate once inside.  Anyhow, the baby (monster) caterpillars hatch and are ready to munch (think eating like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”).  So they chew a hole into the stem of these plants and the feast begins.  They basically eat the center out of the plants, thusly sucking the watery life out of them and killing them.  What makes them tricky?  Well once they are inside, the plant protects it from any kind of insecticide.  So that won’t help unless you can get it on the egg or the moment the (initially) tiny caterpillar hatches.  And then to add insult to injury, the feeding disasters climb out of the plant and into the soil where they sneakily hide in a cocoon till next spring (or sooner if you live in a long warm season place) when you go to plant again, the moths emerge to repeat the cycle.  Ugh!

svb squash damage

Damage on the summer squash. See the holes in the orange area? Those are points of entry that the bugs chewed.

So what to do?  Well, there are some people out there that are occasionally having luck by slitting vertically along the stem and scraping the munching beasts out (cause there probably are multiple) and then burying the entire damaged area.  I can’t even tell you how much I want to try this to attempt to salvage my plant.  But the problem grows … my summer squash is being chewed from within too.  I’m heartbroken.  In Square Foot Gardening, you give squash and zucchini 2 squares per plant for growing.  But it really doesn’t leave any extra space for laying the plant over a bit to cover the damage in hopes of it rerooting further up the plant.  Not to mention, the damage on my zucchini is at least 6 inches of the stem.   So mounding it up would be awfully hard.  So I will pull the plants from the ground and do a soil check for cocoons in case a bug already jumped ship.  It will be best to put them in a bag and bake them in the heat of summer to make sure everything dies and wont injure any more crops.  In fact, I went out to do this once already, and that was when I discovered the problem with the squash.  It made me so sad seeing both plants suffer that I had to walk away for a day or 2 to regroup on the issue.

The larval (and totally disgusting) squash vine borers eating my zucchini.  These gross me out so much.  I can’t believe I was brave enough to cut this open to show you.  But you can see the rotted area that pretty much just fell off when I touched the plant.

The larval (and totally disgusting) squash vine borers eating my zucchini. These gross me out so much. I can’t believe I was brave enough to cut this open to show you. But you can see the rotted area that pretty much just fell off when I touched the plant.

I don’t know why these things really bother me, but they do for sure.  I think its the wasp-y looking moth, loud buzzing and then especially the maggot-y looking caterpillar.  It grosses me out and makes my skin crawl.  I can handle a lot, but these have to go, which is why I’m going to just pull the plants.  I will have to be content with 6 zucchini and 7 squash.  It is disappointing for sure though.  I have nurtured them from seed; feeding and watering and weeding them along the way.  But our run is up.

zuke baby

My last and smallest zucchini for this year. So beautiful and sad.

If I plant them next year, I’m going to try some new ideas to see if I can grow them better:

  1. use a mesh cover of some kind to keep the moths away, removable (for pollination purposes) but firmly touching the soil.
  2. possibly wrap something around the base to prevent the moth from laying eggs, like a sheath of newspaper.
  3. yellow traps … I’ve heard that the moths are so drawn to large yellow objects (like the flowers) that if you put out a yellow bowl with water, they will dive in a drown.
  4. plant more than one plant so I can get more squash before the bugs come out
  5. plant earlier so I can get a harvest sooner, before the bugs come out for the summer
  6. Research varieties that have more/better resistance to squash vine borers.

Well that is that.  I’ll do happier information that I learned in my short adventure with zucchini and squash in an upcoming post.  For now, have you ever had squash vine borer experiences?  I hope, for your sake, you haven’t gone through the agony of losing plants prematurely.  But if you have lost the battle with the squash vine borer, I’d love to hear what you did in my comments!

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4 thoughts on “A boring monster heartache.

    • You guys too? Multiple Georgian home gardeners have said this to me. Super heartbreaking! I definitely wasn’t prepared for this beast. Though I did get one recommendation to just plant them before the last frost and cover if the frost comes along. This way there is some hope of getting a crop before the bugs win the battle. Granted this person is also a rockstar organic and natural farmer. So basically she is amazing and a farming superhero to me. Not sure I would be as successful. But sure can’t hurt to try! Thanks for reading and commenting. Means everything to me on the journey!

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