This year we are experiencing a lot of firsts. This is the first year we have grown most of the crops that we are growing: garlic, corn, winter squash, summer squash, potatoes, melons. Growing a plant for the first time means learning what it looks like as it grows, and also learning what pests affect it.
We learned relatively quickly about squash vine borers. A few weeks ago, just a few minutes before the reporter from the Missourian was coming over, I noticed the zucchini was wilting. The soil was moist, so I couldn’t figure out why it seemed to be struggling. I quickly watered it and seemed to recover somewhat, so I didn’t think much of it.
A few days later I noticed that the stem seemed to be chewed up. Instead of looking as if it had been damaged from the outside, it looked like it had been eaten from the inside out. And so it had.
Our zucchini was being eaten by squash vine borer larvae. The squash vine borer is a moth which lays eggs on squash plants. The resulting larvae then burrow their way into the stem of the plant, and live there happily eating the inside of the stem until the plant eventually dies. As did our poor zucchini. Curse you, squash vine borer!
We got one nice zucchini off the plant (which had its moment of fame in the Missourian story, and was quickly cooked and eaten). One lowly zucchini from what should have been a prolific plant. What a bummer.
The good news is there are a few things you can do to avoid damage from squash vine borers:
- Plant vine crops that are usually not attacked by squash vine borers, such as butternut squash, cucumbers, melons, and watermelons. (We have all of these plants except cucumbers and none have been affected.)
- Plant a second planting of summer squash in early July to mature after adult borers have finished laying eggs.
- Place floating row covers over your vine crops when they start to vine, and remove the row covers when the crop starts flowering.
- As soon as wilting is noticed, use a sharp knife to cut a slit in the affected stem. Slice carefully up the vine until you locate the borer (or borers). Once you have killed any borers with the tip of the knife, mound moist soil over the cut area and keep this spot well watered. New roots may grow along the cut stem, allowing the plant to survive.
Now that I know what the damage looks like, I plan to do a better job next year of protecting the plants. Unfortunately a zucchini plant was lost in the name of gaining greater experience with urban homesteading. Squash vine borer – 1, Annette – 0.
You just watch out next year, squash vine borer!