Alien in the Garden

scary bugThis has been a very “buggy” year in the garden. Several friends and fellow gardeners are lamenting the extreme invasion this year. I have been gardening for many years, and as such I have some tips and tricks with regard to getting a good garden harvest before the bugs take over and get the rest. Which is my first tip: KNOW that the bugs, bunnies and deer will get some of your harvest, and plant extra for them. Non resistance…

In general, I have found that growing heirloom varieties is helpful. Surely the bugs have been around for as long as humans have been encouraging vegetable plants to grow too closely together in a convenient (for the humans) location in micro climates that the plants may or may not have chosen themselves. I mean a garden, of course. These people planting plants had a personal relationship with them- tending them daily, encouraging high yields and such. People would have naturally noticed (as I now do) that some varieties worked better in their garden than others. And grown them as favorites, year after year. Modern hybridized for monoculture, commercially sold seeds in pretty packages have a different set of values. But thats another story.

costata romanesco

Costata Romanesco

Then there are the bugs.  As usual, squash bugs reign supreme, always the victor in our annual struggle for squash consumption. Costata Romanesco is my all time favorite in terms of taste and squash bug resistance. Over the years I have tried many yellow squash varieties growing right beside my Costata and every year the squash bugs will choose any other variety to attack before moving on to the Costata. This gives this fast growing variety a chance to get huge and set fruit before the inevitable attack. It works- I always get lots of squash from this variety.

 

squash-bug-adult

Adult Squash Bug

On to to my squash-and-squish technique. As I browse the squash bed for harvest, I am also browsing for the eggs and nymphs of the squash bugs. The adult squash bug looks to me like a cross between a stink bug (and we ALL know what THEY look like) and a cockroach (ditto). And they are invincible. Powerful! SUPERBUGS! Nearly impossible to kill- and the nasty stuff you have to use to kill them is simply NOT going into my body. Period. I am experimenting with a natural product to control them, and will let you know the results. In the meantime- squish.

 

squash-bug-eggs1

Squash Bug Eggs. Pretty.

These are squash bug eggs. You will find them growing on the tops and undersides of the leaves. They are pretty! A lovely deep orange-red color, and so neatly arranged in symmetrical squares and lines. Do not be fooled! These are the pods of an entire ARMY of squash bugs, neatly arranged by the aforementioned adult, ready to hatch and destroy. Squish them. Put on gloves if you must, and rub your thumb over these eggs untl nothing but an orange smear remains. Really sounds aggressive, doesn’t it? Don’t want to kill baby bugs? Trust me, even doing this they will still win. You are simply slowing the tide, my Zen friend…

 

squash bug nymphs

Cute little nymphs!

And, just for your further education, here is a picture of squash bug nymphs. These little tiny grey bugs are kinda cute. You will find them in huge clusters where your orange eggs used to be, since you didn’t squish them. Then you will find them all over your squash. Then they will fall in love…

Squish them too. Or squirt them with insecticidal soap. When they are very small, they can be controlled to some degree in this way. But do know- they will still win. They know the game- and they work at it full time. I aim toward losing a close game vs. being shut out. I get squash, they get squash.

 

hornworm

Hornworm

This year I am seeing a bug I have not seen in a while- hornworms! My observation is that when the use of BT (bacillus thuringiensis) became a popular control for worms and caterpillars, these disturbing looking bugs disappeared for a while. They’re BAAAACK! These caterpillars are the larva of the five spotted hawkmoth, a rather plain looking critter. But the babies are impressive! They are HUGE- around 3 inches or more long, very round, have a scary looking but harmless “horn” on their rear ends, and are voracious eaters of tomatoes, peppers and other garden plants. And yet, they are REALLY hard to see at first. They have a fabulous camouflage.

 

Hornworm poop

A large pile of POO

I first became aware of the hornworms this morning as I was browsing for ripe cherry tomatoes. I noticed some very large… um… POOP on the leaves of my tomato plants. Years of gardening has had me take note of such things as POOP on my plants. Yes I know- a fabulous talent. At any rate, I noticed. There was a good bit of it. This poo-clue had me look upward at the tops of my plants.

 

 

hornworm damage

Hornworm damage

Hornworms are voracious eaters, and they simply denude your plants of leaves. So, that is a second clue to look closely for these bugs. Here is a picture of the ends of some of my tomato plants. You might think “deer” at first glance, and you may be right. But big bug poo and naked stems mean look closely… and try not to scream like a girl when one of these large, scary looking caterpillars suddenly comes into focus. What now?? OK, I refuse to touch them, I fess up. But I will snip off the branch that the bug is clinging tightly to, and then call the chickens. WOW do they fight over these! If you lack chickens, you could squish. Or drop said bug into soapy water. You Zen readers- you could simply relocate the critter, it is soon to turn into a grey-brown moth.

 

hornowrm

Big Fella!

This is one of the two fellows I found on my tomato plants this morning. I put my hand behind the picture so that you can get an idea of the SIZE of these jumbo bugs! This caterpillar could really put a new gardener off gardening. But simply removing them from the plant stops the damage. If you have an infestation, you can spray with topical BT, as mentioned above. I linked the first mention to the Wiki on BT, for your further reading. Simply stated, BT is a naturally occuring bacteria that when ingested from the foliage, causes the caterpillar’s digestive system to shut down. It works on lots of wormy-things, and is harmless to the beneficials. I do not promote genetic modification of plants with BT, topical application works just fine in bad infestations without playing with the plant’s genetics. But that too is another story…

 

gardenSo, as indicated by the title of this blog, I do often feel like the alien in my own garden. But I continue to acknowledge that I too am simply another creature in Nature. Spending time with plants and bugs and all things Earthy, I recall and recognize the connection. I learn to work in cooperation with the bugs in my yard… hoping to feel less alien as I press onward…

What… you thought I meant the BUGS??? Heh heh!

 

2 comments

  • Wow, I never thought to sacrifice one plant to give the other plant a chance to grow. Reading this I can’t help but think think one of the keys to organic gardening which I need to master 🙂 is to check on your plants every day. Like you said you sprayed once but they come back and I’m sure the sooner you catch them the better.

    Thanks for the info, I’m going plan on growing Costatas next year 🙂

  • Wow, I may be able to save my squash this year! Thanks for the info!

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