A Declaration of War Against Squash Bugs

If I were queen for a day, I would choose to eradicate squash bugs over mosquitoes, which is likely why I will never been queen for a day (though the bats would surely back my quest for a throne in exchange for the protection of mosquitoes and such an unconventional choice for my bug-eradication schemes). Years ago, in my first garden, the squash bugs spiraled out of control before I knew what they did, let alone how to identify and kill them.

After mulling over this squash-bug infestation from my previous garden, I spent a significant amount of time reading about how to best counteract squash bugs in this garden because I love all things squash. I’ll sneak zucchini and yellow squash into almost anything, and I have a particular love affair with butternut and acorn squash in the fall. Squash bugs be damned; I want to grow food that I like to eat! My first step was to try to ensure that any squash plants would be surrounded by flowers and herbs to attract beneficial insects in the hopes of driving out or delaying the appearance of the bad ones. My garden is filled with borage, towering zinnia, lovely calendula, and slender bachelor’s buttons tucked into corners. As it’s now nearly mid-August and it’s the first time I’m really encountering any squash bugs, I am cautiously considering this strategy a success.

Of course, I also coupled my deliberate plantings with a vigilance that bordered on paranoia nearing Jade Helm-esque proportions. After my debacle with squash bugs earlier, I knew how to look for the adults and the ugly reddish-brown eggs often tucked into v-shaped corners on the underneath of my plants. Adult squash bugs are greyish in color and a little over ½ inch in size as adults. Adult squash bugs will lay eggs all summer, and these eggs will hatch in about 10 days.

The Enemy
The Enemy

Paranoid vigilance will help you control any squash-bug infestation before it’s too late and you’re staring at your garden wondering why all your squash plants looks wilted when you had just finished watering it moments ago. Squash bugs will suck the sap right out of plants and eventually interrupt the plant’s ability to move water through the vines, and the whole plant will shrivel up and die as you watch in horror.

The eggs are easiest to identify and find since they won’t scurry for cover as you inspect the underside of leaves. Crush them. Without any remorse. You can also pick them off and drop them in soapy water, but I get perverse pleasure in crushing them. Do the same thing if you encounter any nymphs, which are young or newly hatched squash bugs and look like little spidery demons. Today, as I revealed exactly what kind of monarch I would be, I crushed a whole troop of nymphs—some of which were in the process of hatching. If you encounter any adults, crush them too. (Bonus points if they are either laying eggs or mating). Squash bugs may smell when you crush them.

Some people will lay out boards to attract squash bugs because they like to sleep and congregate under boards, leaves, straw, or the like. In the morning, you just flip over the board, drop another on top of it, and you’ve instantly squashed a whole slew of squash bugs. I tried this in my previous garden, and it was a depressing exercise. I think by the time you have enough squash bugs that you have to lay out boards, your plants are toast anyway, though that may just have been my own experience. I do not recommend using insecticide; squash plants have to be pollinated by bees in order to produce any fruit, so you’d be shooting yourself in the foot by using it (and making your friendly next-door beekeeper particularly unhappy).

After you have successfully and diligently waged a brutal war against squash bugs and raised a crop of squash (or cucumbers, watermelon, or cantaloupe, all of which are in the same squash-bug attracting family) to maturity, take a scorched-earth policy as Sherman did in his march to the sea. Burn the plants. Some people suggest that you can safely compost the vines, but I say take no chances with the enemy. Burn them—or throw them in the trash—but I would not keep anything around through the winter to encourage whichever squash bugs survived the war to take up residence in the area. It’s bad enough that adult squash bugs will overwinter in a building or under mulch—there’s no reason to encourage them to reside in your compost bin that will end back up in your garden soil.

And remember (in case you have any moments of weakness or doubt in your bug-crushing mania) the tender, hopeful reasons you’re a mass-murderer:  those lovely little promises of a harvest to come.

Baby Pumpkin
Baby Pumpkin
Baby Acorn Squash
Baby Acorn Squash
Baby Butternut Squash
Baby Butternut Squash

Because I was too busy crushing bugs to photograph them, the image of squash bugs was shamelessly pilfered, as it appears the Old Farmer’s Almanac also did; the others, as usual, are my own.

“Squash Bug.” Old Farmer’s Almanac. Web. 10 August 2015.

http://www.almanac.com/content/squash-bug#

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