WICHE: Anxious for some summer squash, a cucumber salad

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Here is how to protect those favorites

By Jeneen Wiche

I can hardly wait for this year’s first harvest of summer squash, and it should be any day now. There is fruit set, and you know how quickly squash can mature. Last year’s crop was not so robust because of the record heat, so I am optimistically counting on a bumper squash crop this year – the weather is certainly on our side.

The pest that challenges most gardeners and their squash is the squash vine borer. I have managed to offset this pest pressure by delaying planting in order to miss peak egg-laying time. I also use row covers, lifting them in the morning so bees can do their pollinating, then covering them during the day, when the mama wasp of the vine borer does her work. But, ultimately, I think my best defense is choosing Romanesco types of zucchini, such as Costata and Gadzukes, which prove more resistant then you average yellow or green types.

The tell-tale sign that the squash vine borer has struck is evident in the stem of the plant. First keep your eye out for the tiny eggs that are laid on the stem. The eggs may appear to be specks of soil, so look closely. They are tiny, flat and shiny-mahogany in color.

Destroy the eggs, and you eliminate the next generation. If they mature, the larvae will travel to the base of the stem to feed, which ultimately cuts off all nutrients to the plant. Another sign that the wilt of your squash is because of the vine borer is a trail of “sawdust” and yellow excrement where they have poked holes at the base of the stem.

Once the yellow material is evident, they have already entered the stem, where they mature to their borer stage. You can split the stem open with a sharp knife in order to remove the borer, but you must be careful to cover the injured part of the stem with soil. Water well and hope that is will recover.

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, it is a good idea 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. And then follow up with either late planting, row covers or planting a resistant variety.

Just like tomatoes, squash also suffer from blossom end rot. Blossom end rot is caused by extremes of wet and dry that result in a calcium deficiency in the soil thus affecting the developing fruit.

Your best defense is to irrigate deeply and on a regular basis to avoid fluctuations in soil moisture. If blossom end rot does occur, you will notice a soft, wet spot on the blossom end of the fruit. To restore the calcium level, you can apply a solution of 4 teaspoons of 96 percent calcium chloride powder per gallon of water to the plant. There are also several commercial products already mixed (and in spray bottles) that serve the same purpose. I always keep some handy for my tomatoes and squash.

Another pest of squash is the squash bug and I have found that they are super easy to control organically. Just lay a board on the ground next to your plants and in the morning go out to the garden and walk on the board. The bugs that took refuge overnight beneath the board will be crushed.

If your cucumbers suddenly wilt, you can blame the cucumber beetle, both spotted and striped. This little yellow-and-black beetle is a chewing insect that spreads the wilt disease. It is especially troublesome, because it spreads mosaic viruses and bacterial wilt, both of which have no remedy.

Bacterial wilt on cucumbers is marked by the wilting of several leaves on a plant; followed by the plant’s eventual death. During the process of dying, the fruit stops maturing and shrivels up.

Cucumber beetles carry the bacteria in their mouths and infect the plant as they feed. A sure way to confirm bacterial wilt is to cut open the stem of a wilted leaf, squeeze the sap out, and if you see a white substance, touch your knife to it and see if it oozes out in a fine thread as you draw the knife away. If so, this is the bacteria.

These beetles need to be controlled to avoid bacterial wilt because there is no other treatment. Smash the beetles when you see them or use pyrethrin to control them. It took me three plantings to get my cucumber seeds to germinate and persist in the garden, so I will be watching closely for wilt.

I think my problems were caused by cut worms, so I sprinkled diatomaceous earth after sinking the seeds, and I finally have some cucumber plants pushing up the trellis.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.