Cappers Farmer Blogs > Homespun Life in the City

Pumpkin Harvest Time

Erin SheehanWhen the nights start to feel chilly and the calendar rolls around to September it means one thing at our house: time to harvest winter squash. Last year we grew over 150 pounds of pumpkin and winter squash. This year we aimed for 200 pounds, but we fell far short.

 

Squash

Pumpkin is a staple at our house, providing a base for many delicious and nutritious fall meals. We make pumpkin soup, bread, casseroles, and even pizza and pickles from pumpkin. Last year although we were plagued by powdery mildew we still managed a decent harvest. This year, not so much, thanks to squash bugs.

July 4th weekend I noticed that our pumpkins and squash were suffering. Instead of growing they were dying back. I wrongly assumed that the problem was powdery mildew and treated for it. Instead of rebounding the plants continued to look worse. When I looked closer at the plants I discovered that the leaves were covered with squash bug eggs. Squash bugs lay groups of small brownish eggs on the underside of the plant leaves. When they hatch, the baby squash bugs (called nymphs) suck out the lifeblood of the plants. The leaves turn yellow and eventually the plant dies.

gourd

By the time I figured out what I had going on it was way too late. Although Jim and I spent hours turning up leaves, removing eggs, and killing nymphs, I had let the infestation go way too far. Instead of carrying a carload of squash back home from our community garden plot, we harvested a mere 45 pounds or so of gourds last weekend. I suppose I feel happy just to have something.

We’re reevaluating how and where we grow winter squash and pumpkins. At $3 a pound for organic winter squash locally, our expected harvest is valuable and we rely on it. Because winter squash and pumpkins take up so much space to grow and we have such pest issues, I’m not sure where to turn. Ideally for next year’s crop we would like land that has never been gardened before or at least where no squash has been grown nearby. Not sure how we’ll find that!

mary
11/2/2015 1:43:24 PM

We'll be cutting back on our pumpkins this coming year, as I think we have a handle on how much we need and can care for. It is fun to give away, but we need to cut back on the work. I have read your posts on usage before, and am always surprised that you put it in everything. I planted my zucchini late and that seemed to out-smart the bugs! So glad to get some for my pancakes and bread (as you do). Mary from Old Dog


homespunlifeinthecity
9/15/2014 1:06:17 PM

Hi Mary - thanks for the comment and for commiserating with me. We did have a successful summer squash and zucchini crop at our home garden, in SPITE of terrible squash bugs. What worked for us was early detection and relentless control. Every 2-3 days we went out to the squash patch and scoured the plants for eggs. We removed the eggs manually by tearing off the leaf sections that were infected. Sadly, we also used "Eight" a non-organic poison, twice. It was very upsetting to do this, but in 2013 we lost our summer squash/zuke plants to squash bugs in mid-August, whereas this year the plants are still going and here it is September 15. But I think you can do a lot with manual removal/early detection.


homespunlifeinthecity
9/15/2014 1:02:07 PM

Hi Dave - thanks for the comment. Sorry to hear about your poor harvest this year. Seems like lately we all have feast or famine when it comes to rain. And we all know the importance of water on our homesteads! I hope next year is better for you!


nebraskadave
9/12/2014 8:30:38 AM

Erin, my garden harvest here in Nebraska was pretty puny as well but it was because of the very unusually cool summer and the tremendous amount of rain. June was terrible for planting and by the time the ground was dried enough to plant, the pumpkin planting window was closed. I tried to start pumpkin seeds under the grow lights to set out plants when the weather would allow it but not a single seed sprouted. This year was a bad year for gardens so I basically just focused on building garden structure when I could. ***** Have a great small better than nothing garden harvest day.


mary
9/12/2014 6:36:33 AM

Hi, Erin, Mary again! I can fully relate to your vine plant failure. I remember your earlier blog this past spring when you put down all the mulch around yours so you wouldn't have to deal with weeds. Then you lost to bugs. They completely destroyed ours and we have no pumpkins and no acorn or butternut squash. It seems impossible not to have a single pumpkin to set on our front porch or give to our grandchildren! I'm not sure what we will do next year either. We plan to give up our field garden and only plant near the house. However, I lost my zucchini and cucumbers there, also. The kale was covered with bug eggs on the back, but I couldn't deal with it because of my back surgery. If you find an organic solution, let me know. We do use diatomaceous earth, but it didn't seem to help the plants in the field garden. Maybe we were too late. We seemed to be a step behind in most things this summer with my surgery and the excessive weed growth from numerous spring rains. I hope to hear from you, and we feel your disappointment.