If you do one thing to help out your garden this year, check for squash bugs. Last year, during the July Fourth weekend, my formerly beautiful and lush winter squash plants suddenly wilted and died back. What was once a plot full of squash vines was instead nearly empty. The plants lost about 2/3 of their size and looked terrible.
At first I thought my plants had powdery mildew. We'd had that the previous year and it also caused wilting and dying back, so I treated for it. When that didn't have any effect I started looking at the plants a little closer. I quickly found that they were covered with small dark insects. A little research told me that these were squash bugs. With a lot of hard work the plants did come back, but my yield was about half what it should have been.
This year I have vowed to stay one step ahead of those little monsters. I visit the squash patch at least every other day and carefully turn up each and every squash leaf that I can reach and search for eggs.
When I find an egg cluster, I rip the portion of the leaf that it is on and put it in the trash. Not the compost and not anywhere near the garden! I'm not taking any chances. As the plants have grown, this process has gone from taking about 10 minutes to more than 30.
It's all going to be worth it, though. I found at least a dozen egg clusters yesterday. I've also killed numerous adults.
Squash bugs are a menace. They will kill your plants and destroy your crop, but using poison on your squash plants to try to control them is not a good idea. Adult squash bugs generally don’t die from poison as they have a hard shell that protects them. Although you can kill nymphs (recently hatched) with insecticide, you are also going to kill bees, because the time when the nymphs are hatching is exactly when the plants are flowering. Your garden and mine need those bees, so please do not use chemical controls on your squash.
Hunting for and removing squash bug eggs may seem like a never-ending chore, but we rely on storing and freezing more than 100 pounds of winter squash and pumpkin every year, so it’s well worth the effort. Go on out to your garden and inspect your plants. Let me know what you find!