Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Launching Into Battle. . .

It's that time of year again.  Mosquitoes and flies are sucking the life-blood out of us.  The flies are particularly bad around here this year, but I don't notice mosquitoes as much because their bites don't affect me, just everyone else in my home.  My garden is feeling the sting of summer pests as well.  

In the past, I've had major issues with tomato horn worms, cucumber beetles, stink bugs, and squash bugs.  The first one is a voracious attacker of tomato plants, eating them to stubs if not controlled quickly, but I will attack them in the next post.  The last two are somewhat similar and can be mistaken for each other, although it's more likely that the squash bug is mistaken for a stink bug.

The past two years, I was learning a lot about managing a larger garden.  I still am, which is really the point here.  I love to learn, and then to share my newfound knowledge with others.  Anyway, I was very late in identifying a problem before, thinking the brown spots were from the hot, dry weather.  Or that bacterial wilt was the cause of the wilting pumpkin and squash plants.  Even thinking some sort of parasite was responsible for the blossom-end rot on the tomatoes that first year.

(I'm going to digress here, but it's important to note that blossom-end rot is not a parasite problem.  It's a nutrient problem.  Usually it can be solved simply by adding calcium to the nutrients the plant naturally acquires.  It can be done several ways, but I won't get into that here.  For more info about blossom-end rot, go here.)

Once all my pumpkin vines had died off rather early, leaving the small fruits lying in the garden amidst the decaying matter, I noticed a plethora of what I thought were stink bugs.  (See, here's where we learn by trial and error, and then pass along the knowledge.)  When the buggers reappeared last year, I started in on the research.  

I learned that these abundant creepy-crawlies were squash bugs, so named because of their affinity for the fruits and their vines.  

Squash bugs look a lot like elongated stinks bugs.  They are similar in color, and body "style."  

They nibble on the stems, "sucking nutrients from leaves and disrupting the flow of water and nutrients."*  This causes the plant to wilt.  Usually, yellowish spots appear on the leaves before wilting.

If you notice your plants wilting, it's important to find the bug before you go diagnosing the problem.  Bacterial wilt can look like the wilt caused by squash bugs, but it is spread by striped cucumber beetles.  (More on all that later.)  If you see the squash bugs on or around the wilted plant, you can make a safe bet that they are the cause.

To further guarantee that you're treating the right wilt, look for the eggs.  They are usually on the underside of the plant's leaves, though I found some on top this year.  (I also found some on my tomato leaves, but I'm not sure what that means.  Since they were on the squash, zucchini, and cucumbers, I'm assuming that the tomatoes were used out of convenience.)  Anyway, the eggs are tiny, copper balls.  They nest in packs for the most part, making them easier to locate in a jungle of green.

These pests are one of the peskiest sorts.  Like stink bugs, nothing seems to work on them.  They don't have many natural enemies, and there are only a few effective chemicals available to us local types.  One of those is Sevin, and I have used it for the past two years, mainly because I caught the infestation so late in the game.

This year, I'm trying a different tactic.  Soapy water.  Yup, just good old Dawn dish detergent in a sprayer bottle full of water.  I sprayed it on my plants, soaking the adults I could reach with my foot in the hopes that it would suck the life out of them as they do to my crops.  I did avoid spraying the cucumbers too much because they were buzzing with bumble and honey bees.

The eggs I cut off and soaked in a tray of soapy water.  I'm hoping that the concoction will prevent hatching or kill the nymphs as soon as they emerge.  One leaf I removed completely because it had the creepy little nymphs crawling all over the underside.  

They are creepy, aren't they?  Anyway, when I put the leaf in the soapy water, the nymphs all died instantly.  I took this as a good omen.  Maybe my home remedy will work, and I'll be able to share it with the world.  

I'll keep you posted on how this works out for me.  But if it doesn't, I'll be using the "organic" method to get rid of them. . . probably on a daily basis.

Happy gardening!


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