My summer squash are starting to get big, and it’s making me nervous.  In my garden, squash get killed by squash vine borers almost every year.  It drives me crazy because summer squash overproduction is a cliché of the vegetable garden, yet I’m lucky if I get one or two a plant.  Two years ago I thought I had solved the problem when I discovered the trick of putting aluminum foil as a mulch around the base of the plants.  Supposedly the foil confuses the squash vine bugs from laying their eggs.  The borer is the larva and it burrows into your squash vines and kills them from within.  Apparently the larva then bury themselves in your soil, then pupate in the spring and plant more eggs on your plants.  So unless you actually defeat the life cycle of this bug on your own property it will keep coming back, and you will never get enough summer squash.  The three ways you can protect your summer squash is by preventing the bugs from laying their eggs, preventing any eggs that are laid from hatching, and killing any borers that do manage to infest your plants if any do hatch and bore into your plants before they go back into your soil.  This is serious pest prevention work.

I’ve been trying for several years to outwit them and this past winter I went on a serious search for a remedy.  The foil seemed to work well 2 years ago because only one plant got it.  But I must not have deal with the borer from that plant, because the borer got all of my plants last year.  Come to think of it, I don’t know that I killed those borers before it got back into the soil.  I didn’t really understand the life cycle of this pest until my intensive research on it this winter.  I’m on a mission, now, I am fed up!  I’m taking my squash growing game to a new level.  The technique I decided to try this year is insecticidal soap.  I’m going to spray the squash vine with insecticidal soap on a weekly basis, and hope to kill the eggs before they hatch.  I don’t know how well I’m going to stay on top off it.  With the rain so unpredictable these days, it’s hard to know when the best time to do it is.  The soap I’m using is approved for organic gardens, but this does bring up a point about pest management.  Sometimes a pest is so difficult to deal with via organic methods that you need to have some kind of pesticides.  In agriculture they call it “integrated pest management”.  Basically they try to defeat pest problems before they begin, and only when the pest problem because unmanageable do they resort to pesticides.  In the small home vegetable garden, it’s easier to manage pests organically.  There aren’t that many bugs per plant and you can pick them off, or just wait for the beneficial insects to move in.

If you haven’t planted squash yet, there’s still time.  The best squash harvest I ever got was when I planted them really late, in August for a September/ October harvest.  A lot of summer squash take about 50 days to reach maturity.  That’s just 8 weeks.  Our weather can stay quite mild here until October, so if you plant at the end of July or beginning of August, you till have time for a harvest.  Another plus is that the dreaded vine borer usually only has one life cycle per year in this region, so by planting late you could possibly avoid this pest altogether.  I’m also trying another squash trick this year that I read about on Vegetable Gardening.  Since squash need a lot of water, the author of this article buries empty gallon sized pots in her squash hills in order to be able to water them well and deeply.  Steve Solomon has a tip similar to this which he calls fertigation (p. 153 in his book Gardening When It Counts)  He takes a bucket, puts a little hole in the bottom, then fills it with manure or compost tea, and sets it next to a plant and lets it drain out.  I figure I could add compost tea, or Seaweed extract to the pots I have set next to my squash (and cukes).  I’ve also planted several kinds of summer squash this year, partly thinking that one might be more attractive to the borers than the others and could act as a pest magnet.  One thing is for sure, I am going to be ruthless this year, and if the borer gets into one of my plants I’m going to rip it out right away and squash the heck out of the borer.  Seems fair, doesn’t it?