Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz
If you are like me, you love squash. I particularly enjoy rich, meaty winter squash and every year I endeavor to have lots of them stored up for the winter larder. The only problem I have with growing squash are the dreaded squash bugs – SB’s for short. And in last week’s article, I covered most of the traditional and non-traditional ways to control squash bugs organically, including growing the one species most resistant to the effects of squash bugs. And this week, I’m going to share with you a nifty trick that I came up with to very nearly (I don’t want to say entirely, as I am a humble gardener, after all) obliterate SB’s from my squash patch! And you can, too!
Years ago I found out that squash in the moschata species are much more resistant to the diseases spread by SB’s, so I began growing only moschatas, with the exception of one or two summer squash plants which, of course, were always decimated by SB’s after the first few squash were ready to eat. But just because moschatas are SB and disease resistant, does not mean they are completely immune.
If SB populations get too big, the damage to leaves, stems and even fruits can greatly reduce yield, fruit quality, and even cause the plants to wither and die. So, while we have always had squash bugs on our squash, our efforts have been solely aimed at reducing their overall numbers. And this year, I finally found a way to very nearly eliminate the little buggers.
At this point, you may be hoping I’ll give you The Magic Bullet – perhaps a spray, a dust, or some “one shot” deal that will destroy the little buggers once and for all. But the truth is, there is no such thing as a magic bullet for SB’s – not even in non-organic agriculture. It just doesn’t exist. A nuclear bomb probably wouldn’t even do it.
What I can tell you is that if you dedicate yourself to search the squash patch for 20 minutes every 2 days from the day your squash babies open their first set of true leaves, you can almost or entirely eliminate this destructive pest from your garden.
Now, I know lots of people hand-pick SB’s along with their eggs and nymphs – and believe me, I’ve done it, too – but yikes! There are SO many leaves to search. And it’s not just the leaves but the stems, flower buds, and even in the mulch and leaf litter! Oh, and wading into that itchy morass on a hot sticky summer day to turn over every single leaf in the patch and craning your neck to get down low enough to look underneath! Sheesh! No wonder we give up after a while and just let the bugs have it.
But if you’re willing to get out there every two days – here’s a trick that will make your life SO much easier.
Start by getting yourself a hand mirror that is at least 8” in diameter – mine is round and about 10”. Anything smaller is a waste of time. Next have a small bucket at hand with a bit of soapy water in it for drowning the adult SB’s. Then, ready one or two duct tape tubes (with the sticky side out) that fit firmly around your index finger from just above the first knuckle to the tip of your finger.
Now, head on out to the patch and use the mirror to look under the leaves. The upside-down world is a little disorienting at first, but you’ll get the hang of it real quick. Move the mirror in and around the leaves, turning it in all directions. Immediately you will notice that the sunlight shining through the leaves makes any dark object – like egg clusters and nymphs – stand out in stark contrast. Not only can you view lots of leaves all at once, but that you can see them from all sides and angles just by moving the mirror around. And the best part is that you can see a very long way through the patch without having to wade into it.
I like to start at one edge of the patch and search using an imagined grid. By doing so, I can cover my 15’ x 15’ patch in about 20 minutes. If I spot a cluster of eggs some distance away, I simply look into the mirror while moving my free hand over the leaves. The shadow made by my hand shows me which leaf to target.
I then lay down my mirror use that hand to turn the leaf over and with my duct taped finger lift the eggs from the leaf. I take my time when removing egg clusters in order to get every last egg from the creases and crannies. And I try to do it in such a way as to not injure the leaf too very much. However, in the bigger picture of things, the damage I sometimes inflict is minor compared to what the nymphs will do to it if they hatch.
I really wanted to show you all a picture of all the eggs and nymphs I was able to snag in my first few 20 minute sessions, but I didn’t take the picture then thinking I’d do it later. But after those first few times there wasn’t much to show! By eradicating the eggs, I also eradicated the nymphs. And without the proliferation of nymphs, there were not enough adults to continue the cycle.
My advice to anyone trying this method – start early and be vigilant. Once you stop the cycle, the game is over. Gardener 1 – Squash Bugs 0
Let me know how this method works for you and don’t be shy about sharing other SB control methods with us! We love to learn here at Show Me Oz!
See you next week!
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.