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Posts Tagged ‘Butternut Squash’

SVB Moth

Tonight whilst meandering out in my garden, I came fact-to-face with my nemesis, the beast that every year since I have gardened has laid its wicked spawn that killed my beloved butternut squash three times. I have never laid eyes upon this evil vermin, only its slimy, icky, destructive progeny. Tonight I saw it, and I shuddered. (Cue Jaws-themed inpending doom music):

It was the Squash Vine Moth, vile mother of the evil, insidious, pestilent, slimy, icky, groddy . . . SQUASH VINE BORER!!!! (high-pitched, hysterical female scream)

I steeled myself and faced my foe, determined and unafraid. I bravely considered my plan of attack, thinking, Um, but first I need to Google this and make sure what this critter is . . .

So I took a quick detour to find out if this indeed was my bitter enemy. Well, to be honest, since it was lurking out amongst my yellow summer squash, I thought it might be my other enemy that decimated my yellow squash last summer, the evil Squash Bug. I Googled “Squash Bug,” and nope, wasn’t it. Then I Googled Squash Vine Borer, and yup, thar she was in all her wicked glory, looking just like the be-ach out there squatting upon one of my yellow squash leaves.

Now I knew who my enemy was, and I was ready to form a plan to destroy her. But first, I wanted to get a picture of my own. I mean, y’all have to see her, right? So I got my camera, went back outside to my yellow squash plant and told her, Smile, because you’re about to die! Mwahahahaha!  Then I snapped her picture. She actually was a pretty creature, and I loved her vivid red and green coloring, but her beauty wasn’t gonna save her. She had to die.

Then I had to decide how I was going to kill her. To be honest, I really hate killing anything, even if it is threatening to kill my plants. Must be because I was a Buddist in another life – or was that Catholic – or maybe nudist – uh, oh never mind. I just hate killing anything, even pests – it always makes me feel guilty, no matter how destructive the critter. So I grabbed a jar, placed it under the leaf the moth was on, and shook the leaf. The SVB moth tumbled in with nary a struggle. Too frickin’ easy. I screwed on the lid and then placed the jar in the grass while I decided what to do.

I decided to plant the datura I bought at Natural Gardener this past weekend. Yes, I know I just planted a bunch of moonflower seeds, but I realized they weren’t the same ones that grow out at Leb Shomea where I went last summer. Natural Gardener had datura (which is also known as moonflower), and I knew this was it, and that was what I wanted. I know I’ll be very happy with the moonflowers that are growing from the seeds I planted, but I really did want what grows out at Leb Shomea.

SVB Moth in Jar

So, since I still didn’t know how I was going to kill the SVB moth, I dug a hole and planted the datura. Then I checked all my squash plants for any more SVB moths, gave them a second, and more thorough, dusting of diatomaceous earth (I’d given them all a little dusting the previous night since I figured SVB season was coming upon me quickly), cleaned up a little around the patio, grabbed the jar with the moth and went inside to take a picture of it in the jar.

Then I considered how to kill it. I thought about putting water in the jar or flushing it down the toilet, but that seemed sort of a cruel, prolonged death by drowning. So I decided to take it back outside, shake it out on the patio and then stomp it to death with my foot. A relatively quick death for the moth. I stomped it three times to make sure it was good and dead, more so it wouldn’t be suffering than because of any enraged venom I have toward the SVB moth and its gross progeny. I didn’t feel great about doing it, but I knew it was either the moth or my squash and I ain’t given up my squash that easily this time. So the SVB moth had to die, and so will any others I lay my eyes on.

I hope that’s the only SVB moth that lights upon my squash, but I’m ready to do battle if need be. I want my squash, damnit, and the SVB ain’t gettin’ any this year!

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My Butternut and Delicata Squash

Once again this year I am trying to grow beans and squash. The first year, as an experiment, I planted some black-eyed peas in a container. They came up and produced a few pods, but not much. Last year I didn’t have much success with the Kentucky Wonder beans and bush/soup beans that I planted, nor with the yellow squash I planted, and if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know all about my ongoing struggle with butternut squash and the dreaded, evil SVB (Squash Vine Borer) since I started my garden in 2008. And last year I tried planting delicata squash with the butternut squash and it never came up at all.  So you’d think that I’d just give it up, this being my third year of gardening, and the third time to try beans and squash.

But the third time is a charm, and this year will be different, I have determined. It already has been different. This year I bought bean innoculant for all my beans, and instead of coming up all puny and anemic like they did last year, they have all come up thick and rich and green and, in the case of the pole beans (Kentucky Wonder and Scarlett Runner), they are eager to climb whatever they can! I installed a net trellis in the raised bed with yellow summer squash and the pole beans on the back row, and for the beans in the row in front of them, I set up two bean teepees from  branches I saved last year when I cut off some really low branches on my Bradford Pear tree. And so the pole beans have plenty to climb up on, and they are going to town.

Bean Teepee

I had also foolishly planted Scarlett Runner beans (from the bean seeds I had left from the Hummingbird Garden) right in front of the yellow squash, and I later realized that if I set up bean teepees with the Scarlett Runners it could block sun from the squash. I know beans don’t transplant well, and I didn’t really have a good place to transplant them anyway. But I really hated to pull them out and throw them away – it seemed like such a waste (I also hate to thin plantings for the same reason). So as their vines get longer, I am successfully training them to go up on the bean teepees on each side of them.

As of this writing, I also have three healthy plants each of yellow squash, butternut squash, and ta-dah! – delicata squash!  Not sure why the delicata came up this year when it didn’t last year; I used the same packet of seeds as I did this year, but in any case, I’m please that they all came out. And all of the squash plants have tiny flower buds on them!

Of course, now that my bean and squash babies have survived the initial “birthing” process, my thoughts turn to pests – how do I prevent them, or at least, keep them from getting out of hand? Last year I never got any yellow squash because I got squash bug and noticed it too late, and I did have another attack of SVB on the butternut squash, but fortunately it only got one plant and I was able to save the other one and kept a sharp eye out for any SVB eggs. The borage I planted may have also helped, but this year I didn’t plant borage right in front of either beds that contain squash, though there is borage nearby.

Yardener.com offers several solutions to the dreaded SVB, one of which I’ve already done, which is to use Garlic Barrier to repel the moths that lay the eggs that hatch the larvae that burrow into the the vine that destroys the plant (yes, this sounds like an annoying children’s song). Another solution I might also try is to dust the plant with diatomaceous earth to prevent any larvae from entering the stem, although what it will really do is slice those little suckers like glass (Bwahahahaha), which yeah, certainly prevents them from entering the stem! 

I could also use row cover, but it’s such a pain in the you-know-what to lift it up, check yer plants, or harvest, or whatever and then cover it back up again and seal all the edges. And I’m too lazy to do all that. So I’ll keep using the Garlic Barrier as repellent, and try dusting with diatomaceous earth and keeping a good eye on my plants.

I just did a little research on bean pests and diseases, and prevention of pests and diseases for beans does not seem to be as cut and dried as it seems to be for squash.  It makes me tired to think about it. And I realize that I probably over-planted beans. I kept with Mel B.’s (of Square Foot Gardening fame) recommendation of planting 9 pole beans and 8 bush beans per square foot, and even for one square it just really seems like too much, plus I planted not just one square of pole beans and one of bush beans, but 6 squares of pole beans and 8 squares of bush beans, and this doesn’t even count all the runner beans I planted in the Hummingbird Garden! Jeez Loueeze, even if all my bean plants survive and thrive, I’ll have more beans than I can possibly ever eat! Oh well. Guess I’ll have to share my bounty with family, friends and neighbors!

However, I do wonder if crowding the beans like I have is good for them. I wonder if I should thin them out some, but again, I hate the thought of thining them out. Well, anyway, like I said, it just makes me tired to think about. Guess I’ll join Scarlett O’Hara and say, “Tomorrow is another day.” I’ll worry about it then.

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As promised, tonight I bring to you the heart-breaking saga of the second Squash Vine Borer (hereafter known as SVB) attack on my beloved b-nut squash.

After neglecting to meticulously inspect my butternut squash vines due to reading somewhere that the dreaded SVB ceases attacking after August, I was horrified to find one Sunday morning three weeks ago that the SVB had revisited, leaving its progeny to decimate my b-nut squash. I had noticed some time before that the leaves on the vine were sort of withering up and turning yellow, but I thought maybe it was because they were older leaves. My squash fruit seemed OK, though small, and I just stood stubbornly steadfast in believing what I read, that I had nothing to fear from SVB after August.

But of course, this is Central Texas, where we continue to experience summer, or at least late spring-like temps well into November. Duh! I fergot! Which means it’s still perfect weather for the SVB to go a-laying its little eggs.

In any case, as I watered the squash that fateful Sunday morn, I decided to remove some of the dead leaves. As I removed them, I noticed the tell-tale sign of SVB infestation: SVB “sawdust.” You can see a picture of it below, after this post. Now, up til this point, I’d never seen it before, but I had read about it, and I knew that this had to be it. Then I found some dark eggs, and more “sawdust.” Then I removed some vine where I found the sawdust, and striped back the stem: yup, there it was, an ugly, slimy, segmented, inch-long larvae munching its way through the vine.

Well, I was essentially heartsick, and mad at myself for being so lax in checking for signs of SVB. I decided I’d try to save my b-nut squash as much as I could, and so cut back vine, but I kept finding more signs of infestation.  I wound up basically ripping out one of the squash plants. Amazingly enough, the other plant didn’t seem to be infested at all, so I was able to keep that. I was so grateful that I had one un-infested plant!

My first-b-nut squash (and some acorns) -- very fall-y

Unfortunately, the plant I had to rip out had all the fruit on it. However, while the fruit was relatively small, it didn’t look like it had been infested. I understand that SVB larvae like to eat the vine, but leave the squash fruit alone. I decided not to throw them out and see if I could still use them. You can see a pix of them to the right.

I was a little worried that maybe the squash was infested when I saw some larvae creeping on the counter I sat them on. I decided if any more crept out that I would cut the squash open to see if it was infested and throw them out if so, and cook them if not. But no more crept out, so I decided to keep them intact until I was ready to cook them.

Last weekend I used one of the squash to make a lentil-ginger-butternut squash soup, and as I tentatively cut up the squash, expecting it to perhaps have some larvae deep within, there was none. I also wondered if the flesh would be any good. I had figured that the reason the fruit was small was that the SVB larvae had stunted the growth of the fruit as they ate up the vine, which is the lifeline for the fruit. So I wondered if it would really be ripe, but when I cut the squash open, the flesh was nice and orange like any b-nut squash I’ve bought from the grocery store. And it worked just great in the soup, so I was very pleased. The soup itself cooked into such a mash that it was hard to pick out exact flavors of some of the ingredients, but there was no bitter flavor that might accompany an unripe squash.

As for my intact b-nut squash plant, I have fertilized it and I now check over it as often as I can. So far no SVB infestation as far as I can tell, and it’s now starting to produce some more fruit, so I should continue to have squash for this season.  I think, however, that the fruit is just going to be small, as I’ve got one that is maturing that isn’t much bigger than the others I harvested earlier.

I figure that growing veggies in containers may lead to smaller veggies. This seems to be the case with the Malabar spinach that I’m growing in a container; its leaves are a lot smaller than the ones of the Malabar spinach in the square foot garden. Maybe it’s because the root system has limited room in which to spread, I don’t know. It’s not a bad thing; the produce still tastes good, it’s just that it’s smaller.

In any case, I’m just glad I was able to save the other b-nut squash plant, and glad I have more fruit growing on it. From now on I will make sure I keep a sharp look-out for any SVB infestation!

Because I couldn’t ever find pictures of either the SVB sawdust or pix of the larvae on the Internet, I decided to take some pix for others who might be curious what to look for. Unfortunately these pix are not in focus very well, but hopefully you can see the sawdust and the larvae. The first picture is of a squash stem with sawdust hanging off of it. The picture caty-corner to it is one of a stem pulled back and exposing the larvae. It’s all white, slimy and segmented and shows up in the middle of the stem.

SVB sawdust on squash stem

SVB sawdust on squash stem

Can you see the icky, slimy SVB larvae?

Can you see the icky, slimy SVB larvae?

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I tell ya, raising veggies and fruit (and cats) is almost as nerve-wracking as what I imagine raising kids is. After a day at the old soul-sucking job, I get home, love on my furry babies, change clothes and go check on my green babies, and whatta ya know, I’ve got two more wilted squash fruits. Fear courses through my veins – is it the dreaded squash vine borer redux? I pulled off the very brown and wilted smaller fruit and dissected it — no larvae. Then I took the larger one, one of the many that I thought were fertilized and getting big, but that I’d noticed was looking kinda withered even when I got home from out of town earlier. Now it was looking sadder, though not brown and withered like the other one. First, however, I decided to remove my contacts and put on my glasses, because irony of ironies, as I get older, I get more farsighted with my contacts, but can still see OK with my glasses. I still needed to wait for my eyes to adjust to the glasses before I dissected the other fruit.

In the meantime, I poured over searches on squash bug, and found that squash bug just eat the leaves and vines, not the fruit so much. Then I read more about the borer. Supposedly butternut squash are pretty resistant to that, and the borer seems to also go more for the leaves and vines than the fruit. But I know I had larvae with the first batch of squash. Then I find out about pickleworm – ah, yes, they also produce larvae, and the larvae do like the fruit! But again, B-nut is suppose to be more resistant to that. But still, there are always exceptions, and I did have larvae the first time. I figured it might have been pickleworm then, and was worried that it was pickleworm, or borer, this time.

With my eyes good and focused, I took the other squash fruit and started dissecting it. Nothing, no larvae, nada, zip, zilch. There was still plenty of good fruit, unlike the other one I’d dissected, so it wasn’t like it had been destroyed and the larvae had moved on. There still should have been something in there still munching away. Also, no tell-tale entry holes.

Then it occured to me — is it possible that these fruits hadn’t been fertilized, and so were withering up like barren old maids? Did another search, and yep, that looks to be the case. I guess I had assumed that since I had a bunch of big healthy young female fruits when I’d gotten home from out of town that the male flowers had burst forth like hormonally driven teenage boys and had impregnated my girls while I was gone. But then I couldn’t remember any male flowers on the cusp of blooming when I left. Which may mean, unless some boys did indeed bloom when I was gone, that my four or five beautiful big young girls are gonna drop off too, wilting from lack of male attention. It is possible that some guys snuck over while I was gone, did their dirty work and dropped off before I got back, but we will just have to wait and see what happens.

There are male blooms starting to come out and mature now, but like the case with humans, there have been several girls that have blossomed forth and matured much faster than the boys have, of course. There are several baby girls starting to show their tiny green and curvy selves, but they are smaller than the boys, so I hope everybody gets it together and matures around the same time! I want some butternut squash dadgum it, and the more teen pregnancies I have here, the better! And no, we won’t talk about Alaska on this blog — I try to keep it apolitical here cuz I want everybody to feel welcome, Republican, Democrat, Libertine, what have you, though I do admit I’m waiting excitedly for a tee shirt, buttons, yard sign and car magnet from my favorite Chicago-area politician, and it ain’t Mayor Richard Daly!

Anywhoo, we’ll just have to wait and see. In any case, I hope my girls did get fertilized while I was gone. I was really hoping I had a good head start to some B-nut squash!

My meager b-eyed pea harvest

My meager b-eyed pea harvest

On another front, I’d forgotten last night to include an update on my black-eyed pea experiment. Well, as you can see, I did get a few pods, which I shelled, see pic to the right, though I think I picked them a bit too soon. I ate one raw, which was OK, but not great. I left the peas out and they just dried up, so I threw them away and put the pods in my compost pile. In any case, I realize that if I grow black-eyed peas I’m either going to have to use several seeds to get a decent harvest if I use seeds from peas I buy at the grocery store, or I’m going to have to buy a high-yield variety and plant that. I’m not sure even planting a whole 4×4 SFG with nothing but b-eyed peas from the bulk bin at the grocery store will produce enough to eat at more than one meal! But it was still fun to get some pods, and opening them reminded me of the time when I was about 11 years old visiting my grandparents on their cotton farm in West Texas. My Mamaw had a huge veggie garden, and that summer she had harvested a bunch of what I think were black-eyed peas, and then she taught me how to shell them. Course this time around I’d forgotten what she’d taught me, and didn’t remember til I shucked the last pod. Oh well!

This concludes this round of my garden update. I do have a goji berry bush and blueberry bush in containers, but they need another year before they start fruiting, and there’s not a lot to report there. And I plan to devote a future posting to goji berry in general, and mine own bush to some extent in particular.

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