Race to Ripeness

The garden has been a real battle this summer. I’ve focused on the weeds, and yes, I did have to resort to the nuclear option (Roundup) to finally kill the four large burdock plants and some extra-resistant thistles (only around the garden fence, not near the food). Even salting the earth wouldn’t kill them!

I always have some bugs in the garden, usually Colorado potato bugs that I deter with an organic spray that kills the larvae and eggs and drives them away. At the end of the season I also usually see bugs I’ve always called squash bugs but they are actually cucumber beetles. Cucumber beetles are cute little bugs that look like lightening bugs but black with yellow stripes. By the time they arrive, things are mostly wrapped up and they have never actually killed any of my plants.

So nothing in my lucky decade of gardening has prepared me for the arrival of true squash bugs, the Anasa tristis. Seriously. These things arrived in squadrons earlier this summer, starting in on the zucchini. I squashed them as I could and particularly worked to rub out the eggs they lay in clusters on the underside of leaves. I was familiar with that tactic from the potato bugs.

But when I was on vacation, Steve sent me a photo of the winter squash patch that broke my heart. The squash bugs had moved on to them and clearly were doing more damage than I’d be able to manage. It is a true infestation.

But one thing that has surprised me is the ability of the plants to survive this kind of thing. Out in the greenhouse, my cucumber plants and eggplants were infested with spider mites. I tried to control them by spraying water on their webs. I had thought when I returned from vacation I’d have to pull up the cucumber plants, which I’d left in because despite the damage they kept producing good cucumbers! When I got back I also learned I could spray them with “tomato tea” made from pulverizing green tomatoes and their leaves and diluting with water. The mites wanted nothing to do with the tomato plants, so it seemed like a good remedy.

The cucumber and eggplant vines hardly seemed to need it, though. In addition to new growth, even the infected vines seemed to be rallying and gaining green. There were fewer mites and the eggplants were putting out more flowers. I sprayed and keep at them with the hose, but I’m so heartened by the way the plants have survived the attack.

August is also a time I call “the race to ripeness.” Usually about now blight starts on the tomato plants. If not bugs, then wilt usually starts spreading through the squash field. The hope is that the fruit will ripen before the plant dies.

squash vine borer


I pulled out two of the four zucchini plants, but the other two are still hanging in there, producing new leaves and new flowers. The two I pulled out were foul smelling (I hear anasa tristis give off a foul odor when disturbed) and had evil squash vine borers in the core of their vine. I popped their little heads off. The other two vines look healthy so far. (The web also says that squash bugs give off a bacteria that causes yellow vine disease, which I seem to have in the winter squash patch.)


Out in the winter squash field, I harvested the small squash that were ripe– the beautiful Hokkaido/red kuri squash are a bright, deep orange red. I’ve already made a delicious dip out of one of them. There were nearly a dozen ripe delicata.

The pumpkin might not make it. The other late ripener is the butternut squash, which just set fruit a few weeks ago. But I read that butternut squash is the most resistant to anasa tristis so maybe some will ripen before the vines die. They are the only vines still out there setting a lot of flowers and growing out into the grass and up the fence.

I’ll work harder on my “garden hygiene” for next year. I’ll drag out the dead vines to the far edge of the field. I’m hoping to lay landscaping fabric between all the beds this fall. In the spring, in addition to killing the weeds more quickly with my blow torch, I’ll keep an eye out for earliest signs of those evil squash bugs. I’ll give my vine plants more room to sprawl. In the greenhouse, I’ll control the mites with Neem oil or tomato tea before they get a foothold. Because these guys may have won the battle, but they’re no way going to win the war.

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