Squash vine borer adult, http://www.extension.entm.purdue.edu

Photo by Rob Durgy, UConn

Squash Vine Borer larva and damage, photo by Rob Durgy, UConn

Watching my summer squash’s leaves collapse  just about overnight signals a problem. Further investigation proves worthwhile when I find a small, 1/8th hole on the plant’s stem. I cut the stem lengthwise, carefully splitting apart the vine to reveal the hollow vine filled with sawdust like frass. Frass is the excrement of an insect. About 12 inches away from the original hole lurks the offending caterpillar; the larval stage of the Squash Vine Borer. Not a pretty site from where I stand! Along with the insect chewing the inside of the vine, centipedes have also entered the vine feeding on the frass. All of the these insects introduce bacteria causing rot leaving a mushy trail in its wake. This plant is too far gone to save. It is pulled out after I kill the borer making sure I got them all,  then tossed the plant in the compost.

The life cycle of the squash vine borer, Melittia satyriniformis, has one generation per year. The adult is a clear winged moth active during the day.  There are orange and black rings  on the abdomen. The front wings have greenish to black color while the hind wings are clear edged in brown.  The eggs are laid at the base of the plant on the soil. Once the eggs hatch, they burrow into the vine to begin feeding. Adults are appear late June through July and into August. Signs of an infestation are small holes in the vine and piles of frass on the vine and below on the soil. The larva can reach 1″ in length. They mature after feeding for about four weeks at which time they will leave the vine to burrow into the  soil. Once in the soil they will spin a cocoon in which to pupate. They spend the fall and winter in the pupa state until they emerge next summer as the adult moth.

Control measures are too late for my plant and should have been used much earlier in the season. Row covers made of Remay, a poly spun product reminiscent of mosquito netting, is an effective barrier, light-weight when applied over plants at the beginning of the season. The edges must be pinned down or buried in the soil to prevent the adult insects from crawling under the fabric. The idea is to exclude the adult moth from laying eggs at the base of the plant. Once the plant flowers, the Remay should be removed to ensure bees and other insects are able to reach the flowers for pollination. Turning over the soil at season’s end will expose overwintering pupae to the elements, and hopefully succumb to the cold. Another turn of the soil in the spring will further disrupt their protective site. Pull and destroy plants as soon as they finish producing to possible larvae from entering the soil. Chemical controls are either carbaryl (Sevin) or permethrin applied to the vines once per week starting the last week in June and continuing until the end of July.

If you do find frass and a hole in the vine, cut lengthwise splitting the vine until you find the boring caterpillar. Remove it then put the vine back together and mound soil on top of the damaged area. It might recover!

_ Carol

(cc) 2005, Rasbak.

Carol Quish photo

On this last day of 2009, I am making my New Year’s resolution list as a gardener. These are all the things I neglected to follow through at one time or another in my garden in previous years!

1. Mulch the pathways of the raised beds and the soil of the perennial gardens. This one act done early in the spring after the soil has begun to warm and spring to life, saves hours of weeding for the entire growing season. Mulching with an organic mulch like chopped leaves or shredded bark has the added benefit of feeding the soil as it naturally decomposes.

2. Have a soil test done. Soil tests are needed about once every three years. The standard nutrient analysis test tells the pH of the soil, levels of phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium. It also tells the levels of micronutrients and whether they are in the correct range for the plants I am growing. Other information given on the simple $8.00 test or soil organic matter level, (low, medium, or high), and the soil texture, (sandy, loamy, or clay). All of this information is an important tool in providing the optimal conditions for the plants you are growing. UConn Soil Testing Lab has a link here, www.soiltest.uconn.edu.

3. Do Not Work in the soil when it is wet!  This single act can ruin the soil structure and cause compaction. Plant roots need to navigate the spaces between the soil particles. If you work the soil when wet, these spaces are squished out, smashing the particles into each other, eliminating the air spaces. The air spaces are where a thin film of water clings to individual soil particles, holding needed nutrients for plants.  Plant roots also need oxygen. Air spaces obviously hold oxygen. Soil needs to be light and fluffy enough so that 50% of the volume is airspace. Remember this when in the early spring when we can’t wait to get out to the garden. You maybe ready for planting but the soil may not.

4. Dead head flowers to keep the blossoms coming. A plant’s job in life is to reproduce, make seed for the next generation of its species. First comes the flower, then sometimes fruit, then the seed. If you keep cutting off the flower or picking the fruit, before the seed matures, the plant has not completed its job. So it makes a new flower to hopefully mature to seeds. By continually cutting off the flower or fruit before seed maturity, we extend the length of time the plant gives us more. Now if you are seed saver, let some plants ripen seed and then collect them for saving. If you are growing cutting flowers, the more you cut, the more the plant replaces keeping you season long bouquets.

5. Clean up the garden. In the fall, remove dead plant debris. Old plants can harbor diseases and hide overwintering insects. Adults and eggs can be attached to the previous year’s plants infecting the next year’s crop. Pull them out and bury in the compost, burn if allowed or dispose in bags in the trash. Put away tools and buckets and container pots. Oil handles and hoe blades for winter storage. All these sanitation tips done before it gets too cold to be working outside go along way to enjoying the next growing season.

Happy New Year.

-Carol Quish

Carol Quish photo

Vegetables at Strawberry Banke, NH

Vegetables at Strawberry Banke, NH

Growing Groceries




Probably several factors are responsible for the renewed interest in backyard vegetable gardening. Financial insecurity has many looking for ways to stretch hard earned dollars. Growing one’s own food can certainly provide nutritional as well as economic benefits. Two or three dollars spent on a package of seeds or on a cell pack of pepper or broccoli transplants will certainly more than pay for itself if plants are well grown. Perhaps the recent food scares are also encouraging food growing efforts as gardeners know how and where their plants are grown and they can reduce the risk of food borne illness by adhering to good gardening practices.


I have been growing vegetables for quite some time and really never gave much thought as to why I do it other than I love eating them. I do appreciate those feelings of self-sufficiency and satisfaction that comes with piling baskets high with fresh picked beans, crispy cucumbers and sun warmed tomatoes. And, I enjoy sharing the harvest with family and friends and co-workers and whoever else will take a zucchini or two or three off my hands. Another great reason, at least for me, for filling the garden beds with vegetables and herbs is to grow varieties that you just can’t find at the local grocery store. Much of January is spent pouring over seed catalogs eagerly devouring savory descriptions of both heirloom and hybrid offerings. It is always difficult to whittle down that expansive wish list into a more realistic seed order and I’d be lying if I claimed to always be successful at doing so!


Over the years I have found a handful of tried and true vegetable varieties that I plant each year. These include selections like Sungold tomatoes, Super Sugar Snap peas, Pimento peppers, Honey and Cream sweet corn, Lutz Winter Keeper beets and also, a large-leaved Italian basil because the leaves are really huge so picking is quicker when harvesting for pesto. Then, of course, there are new finds. Some have just been introduced like 2009 All America Selections winner ‘Lambkin’ melon while others have been around for a while but something about them caught my attention. 


I have found that a most common mistake beginning vegetable gardeners make is to try and cultivate too large of a garden. It is better to start small the first year, find out what plants do well, see how much time and effort your garden involves, and then expand (or not) from there. Weeding, watering, planting, pest control and harvesting are much less overwhelming when relegated to an initially small and manageable garden plot. Try your hand at a hundred square foot garden bed, or less, if this is your first attempt at growing vegetables.  


Even if you don’t have that little plot of earth in your own yard to cultivate, other opportunities to grow food plants include container gardening or community garden plots. Maybe you can barter some gardening work for extra vegetables in a friend’s or neighbor’s garden. Then there are local farmer’s markets and stands, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs for those desiring just picked, homegrown goodness with out plant nurturing responsibilities.


Beginning gardeners will find that there are a lot of vegetable gardening books and vegetable gardening websites one can check out for basic growing information. Neighborhood garden centers and nurseries may also offer advice. Then of course, there are your local Cooperative Extension Centers. For those unfamiliar with Cooperative Extension, it is the educational arm of a land-grant university. The mission of Cooperative Extension is to take university based research and put it into a form that is understandable and useful to the general public. In Connecticut, there are Cooperative Extension Centers in each of the eight counties and also the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at the Storrs campus. You can visit our website, www.ladybug.uconn.edu for contact information. Many common gardening questions are already covered in fact sheet formats.


A more recent development is the E-Extension national website which has thousands of FAQ’s on a variety of topics including home horticulture. Check out www.extension.org for information on numerous topics and if you can’t find an answer to your question you can use their ‘Ask the Expert’ feature.


You are also welcome to join me for our Knowledge to Grow On seminar entitled ‘The A, B, C’s of Vegetable Gardening’ at the Middlesex County Extension Center on March 28th. Our website has full information. Part of the seminar will be spent outside, weather permitting, where proper soil preparation, seed sowing and transplanting techniques will be demonstrated in the model community garden plot managed by Master Gardener volunteers.


Whatever your reason for growing your own groceries, it is both an addicting and rewarding experience. Both your soil conditions and your gardening abilities will improve with each growing season. We’re here to inspire, advise, educate and grow right along beside you.