First Blood

by Daisy

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Squash Borer Moth

Squash Vine Borer Moth

Oh, it’s ON. The squash bug and borer wars are heating up. In addition to having my pumpkin vines invaded by borers, I have suffered an actual SBRI (Squash Bug Related Injury). Don’t scroll down below the photo of the squash bug eggs if you can’t stand the sight of blood. I was smushing squash bug eggs with the back of my thumb and my hand slipped and I sliced myself on the edge of the raised bed. If you’ve never smushed squash bug eggs, it is very rewarding (except for the occasional accident).

I am recovering nicely but I don’t know if I can say the same for the pumpkins. Time will tell. I have been gleefully smushing borer larvae as well, but I know I haven’t gotten them all. And I know I’ve surely missed a few of these squash bug eggs, too.


Ivory and I have discussed this at length and we are agreed: We despise squash bugs–they are ugly and their larvae are uglier still. BUT, we FEAR squash borers. They are sneaky and hugely destructive and harder to kill.

Okay, squeamish people, blood warning again. Look away.


Okay, it’s only a scratch. But, now, it’s personal.


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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin June 24, 2009 at 6:07 am

Hang in there. I am out everyday inspecting and trying to protect my squash. Those little buggers are very cleaver and always ready to distroy my hard work. I am finding that spraying NEEM one week and following it up with garlic oil the next and then back to NEEM etc. seems to be working the best for me. But just remember your smarter!

TL June 24, 2009 at 7:09 am

I just found a tunnel in the stem of another one just above the stocking! Aaaagn! I may try a surgical intervention. I may just destroy that one and concentrate on the other ones. Have to try your garlic oil method, thanks, Robin!

nancy June 24, 2009 at 7:29 am

This year seems much harder – it’s a war for which I didn’t sign up. I have japanese beetles destroying my hollyhocks, black spot is trying very hard to kill my gorgeous roses, my tomatoes are very slow-going, and I just planted pumpkins Saturday, so I fear what I will battle with these. However, I now feel prepared – sort of. I know what to do, it’s just a matter of doing it. The pumpkins are planted at the community garden and I don’t get down there every day. I sprayed them last night with the organic plant food. (I found deoderized fish emulsion at Ace Hardware – still stinky, but not too bad.) I’ll see about adding some flowers as a defense, too. Thanks all for sharing your knowledge – it helps a weary gardener / citizen scientist keep on fighting. What was the recipe for japanese beetle larva? =)

kendra June 24, 2009 at 10:22 am

You got me laughing out loud with this post. I’m very sorry to hear about the SBRI, I hear that they offer workers comp for those types of injuries though. Power to the Squash (and not to the squash bugs)!

TL June 24, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Hi Nancy–Maybe by planting late you’ve confused the squash bugs (we live in hope!) Good luck with the japanese beetles and the black spot. I’ve heard a milk solution is another thing to try for the latter, but I’m so weary with squash problems I don’t have much fight left for the roses.

TL June 24, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Where do I sign up? Maybe one of those lawyers with the worker’s comp. tv commercials would take a stab at it (no pun intended.)

JavaLady June 24, 2009 at 9:34 pm

OOh you poor thing!! I hope you washed that up good and put on some triple anti -biotic ointment, or at least some tea tree oil salve ( I like Malelueca).
As for the bugs, HOW and WHY do the find our plants? I don’t understand it. We didnt have these bugs before we planted squash, right? So how do they know to come eat our squashes?? I’ve got squash and watermellons and tomatoes and peppers, and basil going on in my garden. The temps here are in the 100s daily so I’ve added a drip hose. I hope it helps! How so I make a soap spray for the garden ?

TL June 25, 2009 at 6:43 am

Hey, JavaLady! It’s all healed up, thank you kindly! I’d like to know the same thing. Apparently insects and plants have an incredibly complex relationship. Mine may need a counselor. Hope your garden holds up to the temps.
Soap spray– have you seen Ivory’s here?

Lita June 25, 2009 at 8:05 am

My squash is also suffering, but my real garden criminal is the squirrel. These little suckers are eating each and every tomato just as they first begin to ripen. Do they eat the whole tomato? No! That would be beneath them, far too pedestrian. No these squirrels like to sample. Some nibbles across the surface of the fruit, and then on to the next. I have 9 heirloom tomato plants the size of small trees, and have so far only been able to actually eat a small handful of tomatoes.

Fuzzy and cute, and pure evil. Bah!

Adica June 26, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I got an herb book from the library, and I was reading it today and in the section on companion planting, it said that tansy is supposed to help repel squash and pumpkin bugs (I don’t know about borers). I hope that helps and good luck with your planting!

TL June 27, 2009 at 12:16 am

Check! I’m adding it to the list! Thank you!

TL June 27, 2009 at 12:21 am

Hi, Lita, I feel your pain. Those squirrels should at least have the decency to eat the whole thing and ooh and ahh over them. I have blueberries with beak marks on them. Shameful.

P.S. Here’s an idea that might be worth trying:
It might look strange, but if it works . . .

CLS June 30, 2009 at 2:29 pm

I tried the oil, dish liquid, andH2O, for bugs, it made spots on my plants, but the news paper worked great for weed repelant. I’m trying to learn to live on a tenth of what I’m accustomed to and not by choice, need all the help I can get.
Thanks for your website CLS

Tomato Lady June 30, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Hi CLS–I will check with Ivory about the spots, I went the easy route and used store-bought insecticidal soap. I know some of the recipes say to avoid using it in the heat of the sun, but that might not be the problem.
If the local paper goes online I don’t know what I’ll do about weed blanket.
Hope things are okay.

Monkeyfister July 1, 2009 at 8:37 pm


I live in West Tennessee (don’t hate me, I’m transplanted here from Michigan). Squash Bugs, and Squash Borers are a MAJOR problem down here. I am committed to Organic Gardening, and pest removal via the least toxic and destructive methods. I went to my local Co-op, and talked to them about organic control of these pests. The organic gardening specialist took special interest in my plight, and recommended the following:

First, hand-pick the eggs off. Dormant Oil will kill the eggs, as well, but it is best to hand-pick as many as possible. Same with the bugs themselves. She recco’d using a Q-Tip loded with Dormant Oil on the eggs FIRST to kill the few that might escape your picking. I suffocates them.

Second, if you have Squash Borer worms, very, very gently slice, with a razor blade or X-Acto knife, from the hole, up to where the worm is. Stab that worm, and get it the h*ll outta there. Immediately cover the wound with dirt, and water prolifically. There is a 50% chance that you’ll save the plant or stalk. LOTS of water.

Third, Full-Bore Organic Warfare. Get to your Co-op/Feed and Seed, and get some BT (Bacillus Thuringus), and CAREFULLY spray around the base of the plant, making sure to not get any on the blossoms. Then follow-up with a full-foliar spray mixture of Neem Oil, Dormant Oil and Pyrethrins. Pyrethrins SOUNDS horrible, but it is no more dangerous as Neem, that is to say, it is just fine, and one can eat the Squash the very next day. It is derived from the Pyrethrum plant, and is harmless to humans. Been around for a long time. Be SURE to spray the undersides of the leaves, and all the way down to the crown/base of the plant, and around the soil. Neem, Pyretrins and Dormant Oil SHOULD take care of the bugs within three weeks of once-per-week sprayings.

My neighbor, Tommy, is unemployed, and I helped him plant a garden to provide food and income. He can’t afford to lose a single plant, and he got hit HARD with Squash Bugs AND Borers. These measures saved all but the first two infested plants within two weeks, with him constantly monkeying-over the plants for bugs and eggs.

OK. Now that we covered the “what to do when the bugs are there” side of things, lets talk about Early Prevention…

When you plant your Cuke/Squash/Melon seeds, put a teaspoon of tobacco ash in with every seed. Compounds in the ash are incorporated in the plant for life-long protection. Companion Plant with Icicle Radishes, which you NEVER pull. Plant those Radishes within two inches of the Cucurbit seed.

One foot away, you’ll plant Nasturtiums. As I SFG as well, I basically plant the Bush Squashes every other foot, with Nasturtiums between.

The ONLY problem that I have had this year is with the infected Squash transplants from a friend. My Cucumbers are six feet tall, producing in miraculous quantities, and no bug near them (tobacco ash), and the Zucchini and Yellow Crooknecks were interplanted with radishes and nasturtiums– again, with tobacco ash, and no problems.

The Tobacco, Nasturtium and Radish info is from The wonderful, and sadly late, Louise Riotta’s “Carrots Love Tomatoes,” the rest is straight from the Co-op organic gardening specialist.

I REALLY hope that one or all of these measures will work for you, and your readers. There is nothing worse than seeing a wonderfully healthy plant just die so suddenly.

To be honest, at my place, I’ve only had to deal with three Borers who were already IN the transplants when I got them from a friend. I didn’t notice. The operations that I did worked fine (haven’t in the past). Boy howdy, that damned worm comes out all pissed-off when you get up on it, just perfect to squish it with full prejudice!

Dormant Oil and Neem Oil seem to do great on their own, and I try to stay away from BT as much as possible, because it seems to have a killing effect on pollinators– particularly Bees. The Pyrethrins just make sense, if you need to go full-out organic chem-warfare. Hit every base.

Depending on how many Squash plants you have, and your level of reliance on those plants for your survival, If you MUST save the plants to pay the rent/mortgage– get out that BT, and spray CAREFULLY, as I’ve indicated. if it’s a hobby garden, the BT should really be a last resort.

Sevin doesn’t really work, nor does “Dursban” as, as soon as the Borer hatches, it immediately digs into the plant, and ththose substances don’t quite hit it.

This has been really long but, I hope that it helps.

Happy gardening!


Tomato Lady July 1, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Awesome. I knew there was somebody out there who had conquered these menaces. I feel like I am now fully armed for the war. Love the tips.
Oh, and I fully recall the wrath of a honking big writhing squash borer. The first time I dug one of those ugly things out I jumped a foot. Ug!
Thanks, Monkeyfister.

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