Friday, August 03, 2007

Gardening 101

Any gardener that has left her garden alone for a period of time returns to face work. Weeds don't refuse to germinate just because of a vacation (or in my case, a funeral). Pests don't seem to be sympathetic to grief. However, working in the garden until my back aches and sticks in a bent position, my hands cramp in unnatural claws and my shoulders are sunburned does help assauge some of the aching in my heart. A gardener knows the healing properties of the earth.

Good things happened in the garden during my unplanned two week absence. The beans flourished; even surviving an attack of rampaging goats (the grape was not so lucky, but will recover). I picked close to five pounds of Roma II, Maxibel Haricot Verts, and Golden Wax beans yesterday. There were enough Roma and Principe Borghese tomatoes to make a delicious pasta sauce last night. I dug out weeds and prepared beds for a second round of planting. I slept throughout the night for the first time in a long while.

But like I said, pests don't care that I'm grieving. They thrive in my absence. I saw signs of insect damage throughout the garden yesterday and picked many a slug and a tomato hornworm or two to toss to the chickens as I weeded yesterday.

This morning I tackled this week's gardening topic - Squash Vine Borers (or as they are known around here - gross little bastards...). They end up in even the best gardens and I'm sure they have their purpose, but I want my squash. They had to go. Armed only with a sharp paring knife and garden trowel, I was able to remove them and save my plants.

The Squash Vine Borer (Melittia curcurbitae, for those of you who like to know these things) is a moth larva that feeds on the stems of members of the squash family (squash, pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers) for up to 6 weeks. It then pupates in the soil. This is what the damage looks like. You can avoid it by keeping young plants covered with row covers or treating the base with a nice organic insect repellent - both I skipped...). If your plant gets to this state, you can do a little operation to remove the larva and hopefully keep the plant.

Make a slit in the stem of the plant. Generally I find the larva above the damaged portion - so cut higher up than the mushy part. In this particular zucchini I found four borers. Remove the larva and gently scrape away any mushy parts. Cut off damaged leaves and stems.

Here's the litte bastard, er, borer. Everyone say "Ewickk!" I get great satisfaction in feeding these to the hens. The hens enjoy it too. I don't think the borers feel quite the same about the arrangement.

Finally, mound dirt up around the squash vine. It should root in the soil and continue to lead a happy life. I like to spread a little diatomaceous earth around the base to discourage insect pests and slugs. Members of the curcurbit family are kind of resilient, so hopefully they will continue to produce way too much zucchini for a long time.


  1. We were hit very hard with vine borers. I too call them gross little bastards and a few other choice titles of endearment. It has been a battle this year. Haven't had ONE squash-zucc. This is the first year that they have been this bad.

  2. don't want to jinx myself, but i think I may have a couple more on the vine. I'm pretty sure I don't have a borer, but I think having only one squash plant is what's tough.

  3. I'm so happy that you posted this information. I'm working on my first garden and thought that the rabbits were chewing my plants...guess not. My damage looks exactly like your images. I'm killing the little nastys tomorrow. They already took down one of my plants :(