Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm back! Do you have Squash Bugs?

I am back after a long break. My Dad passed away, and it has taken me a while to re-group. But I am jumping in with both feet.Every year I am bombarded with questions about Squash bugs. This year has been no different. I myself am fighting my own battle. These dirty bounders have killed one half of my crook neck squash, and they are working hard to kill my straight neck yellow squash, zucchini and pumpkin.
First let me explain the life cycle of the beast-
Here is the adult. Pretty hu? These are really hard to kill. Lots of people mistake them for stink bugs. They look similar, and also have a nasty small when you disturb them or squish them. (don't squish them, that smell attracts other squash bugs) They are grow-dy. Adults have a hard shell, and often pesticides don't work on them. They are hardy. The only way I have found to kill these are to pluck them from the plant and stick them in a jar of bleach. (be careful not to spill any on the plant) I have heard that many people use soapy water, or vinegar. Those are probably better. I use Bleach because it kills them FAST!
The adults get together and create these little eggs. They seem pretty well organized. I have never scene a plant that the eggs aren't right in neat rows. These eggs will take about 10 days to hatch. You MUST scrap these little creeps off into the bleach as well.
If you do not get the eggs. Or if you miss some. This is the cute baby (or babies) that hatch! Ohhhhhhh. Any bug mother would be proud. The good news is, these are easy to kill. Squish them. They die. But I would try NOT to get to this stage. You'll be happier if you get them in egg form. Then you don't have 10 or 15 bugs crawling around killing you squash.
What do they do?

These nasty bugs have a piercing mouth that they will use to suck the sap out of leaves. When they eat they cause yellow spots that then turn brown. The feeding also screws up the flow of water and nutrients. So your plant will start to wilt. (Even after it has been watered.) I mention this because when I see something wilting, I run and water it. In this case, you should continue to water like normal. But the plant will continue to wilt and eventually die if you don't kill the squash bugs. I always notice that their are dead leaves, and the actual squash fruit looks yellowed and shriveled. Pick them off, they are not going to snap out of it. By picking it you will actually help the plant to work on new more healthy fruit.

Points to Ponder-

Try to control squash bugs when the plant is young. It is easier to find them, and eliminate the problem before your plants start fruiting. (Besides the plant is smaller then. It will be easier to find them) Don't get a false sense of security. Squash Bugs may rear their ugly heads again. (educate the neighbors about cleaning up debris) So keep vigilant watch. I go out and check the plants at least once a week. And right now, more often.

Squash bugs love to hide on the bottom leaves or at the base of the plants. That is where is it nice and cool in the heat of the summer. They come out in the morning and evening. They hate water, so I set my watering wand to a light spray and wet down the plant. The adults will climb for higher ground. We plucked 15 off of one plant, one evening. It gives me a sick sense of happiness to pull the jerks off of my plant and toss them into their bleachy death. But the very easiest way to tell if you have squash bugs is to check the lower leaves for eggs. If you have eggs, you have adults. Don't make me explain the birds and the bee's. Or in this case the bugs and the bee's.

Idea's on killing the beasts-

I am going to give to so practical tips on how to control these nasty little buggers. But I warn you, it does not happen overnight. In the end, if you love your summer squash. You will want to take the time to get rid of these nasty bugs.

To start- you must clean up all of your garden debris. It is easier to start with no bugs, than to begin with the adults that survived the winter. These bugs love to hid under old boards, tarps, piles of leaves and garbage. Anything that they can crawl under and enjoy a sheltered winter. So clean your yard at the end of the season.

For me, this is a bit impossible. I have a huge field behind my property and there are just to many hiding spots. So I pretty much can ensure that I will spend the spring, summer and fall fighting squashies. That is what my daughter un-affectionately calls them. And I call her the Squash-bug-anator!

Maintain healthy plants. Water regularly. Make sure to fertilize. Squash bugs may injure a healthy plant, but healthy plants will bounce back.

Remove your plant debris. Any dead leaves and fruit. Pluck them off and trash them.

When you know you gott'em-

Try putting a board next to each plant. I have heard that the bugs crawl under the board during the night. Then rise early, lift your board and place each nasty bug into your bleach. I have not tried this, but I know several who have. They swear by it.

I am not a fan of chemicals like seven. I worry about something that me or my family may ingest. But I have used seven in desperate times. So no judgement here. I do use insecticidal soap. It is organic and safe. It will kill nymphs and young squash bugs, if it touches them. But it does nothing to the adults. Whatever you use, you will need to get it on the underside of the leaves. You wont do much good only treating the tops of the leaves. The bugs don't hang out much there.

My sister swears by chickens. Yup Chickens. If you got the space, she claims that her chickens wander the garden. Chewing up the wandering bugs. This is her first year with chickens, and first year of no squash bugs.

I apologize for jumping around a bit. This is a difficult subject to blog about. It makes my skin crawl. But I love all of the benefits that my family gets from a bumper crop of summer squash. If you have any other questions feel free to comment me. I would love to hear your idea's and what has worked for you. Also, tell me if you actually have squash bugs. Happy squash bug hunting.

1 comment:

  1. I am so sorry about your father. I'm sure that it has been a hard time for you and your family. But, I am very glad that you are back. We do have squash bugs and I like to send the kids out to do the dirty deed, but never thought of just removing the eggs. I too, dislike using pesticides on things my family eats (but I have become desperate, myself), so I love the ideas you give. Keep the great posts coming!