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WICHE: Bumper crops of peppers, squash are no sure thin

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By Jeneen Wiche

You know all the jokes about people having bumper crops of summer squash? Squash shows up in people’s cars or in public spaces because there is so much that the gardener can’t even give it away.

Well, some years are better then others, and this year I don’t seem to have an over abundance.

This year the squash vine borer and blossom end rot dominate. Last year it was squash bugs and mildew.

Blossom end rot can be blamed on the high heat and the down pours we get from pop up thunderstorms. The condition is caused by a calcium deficiency brought on by fluctuations in soil moisture.

Sometimes it is impossible to regulate those fluctuations so I have a bottle of Stop Rot handy to spray on the foliage in order to deliver calcium directly to the plant.

The squash vine borer is a bit more complicated.

Once the symptoms of the squash vine borer show up, there is no cure. Instead we must take preventative measures or perform a surgery of sorts.

First, keep your eye out for the tiny eggs that are laid on the stem of the plant. The eggs may first appear to be specks of soil so look closely; they are tiny, flat, shiny and mahogany in color.

Destroy them. Once the larvae mature they will feed on the stem and cut off all nutrients to the plant.

If your plant suddenly wilts and you spy tiny holes in the stems filled with “sawdust” and yellow excrement, you missed the egg stage.

Split the stem open with a sharp knife to remove the borer, a plump white worm. Cover the injured part of the stem with soil, water well and hope that it recovers.

Don’t bother if there is a major infestation. There is nothing you can do to revive a dying plant.

If you have a history of squash vine borers in your garden, it is a good idea to rotate your squash crop and to turn the soil of your garden (if it is not frozen) several times throughout the winter to expose any over wintering larvae in the soil.

Another squash pest is the aptly named squash bug. Unmistakable in appearance, the squash bug has an angular, elongated brown body.

They are somewhat elusive because they stay on the lower leaves where they suck sap from the plant. This sap-sucking causes wilted and dying leaves.

Persistence pays off when trying to control squash bugs, they are difficult to kill. Hunt and smash, use floating row covers (lift in morning for pollination) dust with Rotenone or other pyrethrin based product every 7 days until the numbers drop.

Also look for resistant varieties of squash in the spring of the year. Romanesco types seem to be a bit more resilient the others.

  Heat hampers peppers

Peppers are typically really easy to grow without too many obstacles. However, this year’s weather may have delayed flowering and fruit set because of extremes in temperature.

Blossom drop will occur when temperatures drop below 58 degrees and go over 85 degrees. Once temperatures settle into more normal highs and lows, fruiting will resume.

Anthracnose can destroy a pepper crop. Anthracnose infects many garden vegetables, and it is a great deal more serious then many of the other disease problems because it is hard to eliminate from the garden.

It is caused by a fungus that is spread by cucumber beetles, splashing water and tools. The tell-tale characteristics of anthracnose include circular lesions, often appearing as sunken, water-soaked holes with a blackened edge. Signs of it on both the foliage and the fruit are common. For peppers, anthracnose can spread quickly and renders the plant and crop worthless.

Although not a disease, sunscald is another common problem with peppers. It is the result of inadequate foliage shading the peppers (disease is usually the culprit in causing foliage to drop, however). Sunscald is evidenced by a whitish spot that begins to blacken and then rot. Just be sure that the plant’s foliage is lush enough to shade the peppers. Maintain healthy plants by using compost at planting time and a dash of fish emulsion in your watering can about once a month. Be mindful not to over fertilize your leafy vegetables that bear fruit. Nitrogen stimulates foliage growth at the expense of flower and fruit.