Squash Bugs and Vine Borers | What to Look Out For
Squash bugs and vine borders will completely decimate your squash crops if you don’t remove them. If you let them go unchecked, the plant nutrient loss will cause your squash to be less shelf stable over time. That might not be a huge deal for your zucchini, but it will make a drastic difference in your pumpkin, butternuts, and other winter squashes that will feed your family months into the winter after harvest.
Squash Bugs – Anasa tristis
Squash bug eggs are usually laid on the underside of leaves, tucked away safe from birds and other insect predators. So you’ll need to lift your leaves up and turn them over to check.
Like many bugs there’s a number of life stages that you’ll need to be able to identify so you can remove them all. Above is the nymph stage. Adults look very similar to stink bugs you might find in your home, but their bodies are a little more elongated.
Vine Borers – Melittia cucurbitae
While squash bugs have long term risk on your crop, the vine borers pose a more immediate threat. Vine borers are large moth larvae that burrow deep into the squash vine and eat it from the inside. They create a yellow/orange sawdust as they chew through the vine called “frass”. They can collapse an entire vine over a few days if they’re not caught.
The best way to remove a vine borer is to take a sharp knife or scissor and cut open then vine where you see the sawdust so you can pull them out. The larvae look like a very fat white or cream colored caterpillar with a black face. You can repair the cut by adding a little bit of dirt and wrapping the vine in aluminum foil.
Last July I pulled about 10 vine borers from my zucchini and butternut squash once I knew what to look for. I was able to salvage the vine every time using the aluminum foil trick so it would continue to produce my squash. This year I plan on preemptively wrapping the base of my squash plants in aluminum to deter them from where they like to lay eggs. The adults look like a red and black wasp and their movements are very similar, although they do not sting.
If you have chickens or someone you know has chickens, these borers are a delicious snack for your feathered friends!
There are a number of pesticides and “safe” deterrents for these bugs. But if you know what to look for and you check your garden regularly, you can certainly manage these pests without the need to use chemical intervention. Part of the reason I’m dedicated to homesteading is to cut down on the how much of our food is exposed to toxins that are potentially harmful to your health.