So it all started with what I thought was an overwatering problem. My zucchini was doing amazing and then one day I came out to find many of the leaves on the plant wilted and pretty much lifeless. I did what I have always known to do, and started removing the sick leaves and stem. As I got further into my trimming I noticed the stalk on the zucchini plant looked completely mushy and decayed. It was soft and basically hollow. At that point I knew something more than a water issue was occurring. Upon further investigation and a lot of googling and reading, I identified the stalks as having something called frass. Frass is defined as the refuse and excrement of boring or leaf eating insects. In other words-insect poop. Nasty! The frass from a squash vine borer looks like this
If you see this, you have a SVB present somewhere in the stem of the plant cutting off the water supply to the rest of the plant, essentially killing it. A SVB originates from a daytime moth that lays eggs at the base of your zucchini plant. The resulting caterpillars that emerge from the eggs are the squash vine borers, who eat their way into the stalk and feast.Because this was my first year growing zucchini, I wasn’t even aware of this nasty little invader. Apparently it is a common problem with squash plants,and can even attack other vegetables like cucumbers. Once the SVB has made its way into the stalk, it is very hard to combat the issue. You have a fighting chance before this stage by using a floating row cover to prohibit the moth from laying eggs at the base. Shown below is the fabric tulle, which can be easily purchased at a fabric store and used for a floating row cover. The cheapest hack that I saw in my reading was the mesh laundry baskets usually seen at the dollar store.
Insecticide (natural-see an earlier post for an all organic recipe) will not be of any use once the borer has made its way into the stalk. Another way to attempt combat is to wait to plant your zucchini until after July 4th. The popular time for these moths to lay their eggs is in the spring time, through June and early July. By planting late, you have the chance of avoiding this issue altogether.
Another method is to lay yellow containers filled with water near your plant when you see the moth appear. Apparently they are attracted to the color yellow and will fly into the container and drown. Keep in mind that these bugs can survive the winter and will show up in your soil next year. Be sure to rotate your crop the following year otherwise you are risking the moth mating inside your row cover! I have decided that I will be organically sanitizing my entire box at the end of the season to rod the soil of any cocoons or remaining pests. More on that later.
So as I continued reading, I realized that I was going to have to find this insect in my stalk if I had any chance of saving my plant. I was past the point of controlling this invasion and was at the point of redemption. My stomach was literally turning at this idea, but I knew I had to do it. So I did what the internet suggested to do and starting cutting into the stalk and probing, searching for this nasty little bug. Two of my plants were completely demolished so per suggested advice I promptly pulled them. I had one plant left to search for any remaining borers.
As I began looking closer I realized that the base of my cucumber plants which are planted right next to my squash, were showing evidence of frass. I was panicking at this point! There was no way I was allowing this bug to get into my cucumber plants too! I learned that although it is much less common for these bugs to attack cucumbers, it is possible. And guess where I found the borer? That’s right! Right there in the stalk of my cucumber. Now according to what I read I was supposed to stab the bug with the knife and kill it. There was no way I could stomach that. So I just cut off the stem where it was nesting and threw it out. There is a possibility that there are more in the plants somewhere, but as of now, I have only found one.
The next step in damage control was to cover up the open stalk on the zucchini plant with dirt and water well in hopes that it would re-root and the plant could be saved. There didn’t seem to be much damage to my cucumber plant except for that one stalk, but I took preventative measures and completely covered the bas of the plant with dirt and compost, to prevent any other possible borers from eating their way in.
Shown here is damage done to what is left of my zucchini plant and how I mounded the dirt and compost up around the base to try to promote new root growth. The center picture was taken today and you can see that I have healthy zucchini coming in so it seems that I caught the problem early enough to save the last plant.
The cucumbers are doing great and I have been cutting new ones almost daily. I am so relieved! I have been out spraying my organic insecticide on my cucumber plant just in case about every three days. I feel so paranoid about that whole box now! I will almost be a bit relieved when everything is done growing there and I can till the dirt and sanitize it. I am also happy that I didn’t have any infestations in my other box! And I will be on top of my game next year. That is the beauty of gardening. There is always something to learn!
I have learned a lot from this experience and I hope I have helped you. There are always organic options and food was grown organically for centuries! There is no reason why it still can’t be done. Start today in your own backyard! Email me with any questions. I am still learning but I am always happy to help if I can!