Ack! Squash Bugs!

We knew something was up about a week ago when a few of our squash plants started looking, well…rather bad. This was particularly true of our volunteer squash, which went from strong and green to yellowed and wilty seemingly overnight.

Something’s up, and it’s not good.

The culprit, it turned out, was…and still is…squash bugs.

They look a little like Shield Bugs, but they are rounder.

Yuck. And double yuck.

Too many creepy-crawlies…ewww

So, here’s the thing. Since day one, we’ve striven to make a pesticide-free garden. We’ve seen and death with lots of bugs since our very first plantings, from aphids and tomato worms to too many beetles to count. We’ve let nature take it’s course, using natural remedies only as a last resort. This situation almost made us rethink things, because…it’s bad. Really bad. Because of all the problematic bugs, destructive squash beetles have to be among the worst. Unchecked, they’ll tear through a bed of squash plants in no time. Unfortunately, given how busy we’ve been with non-garden work this summer and how late we noticed the infestation, it may be too late for our squash.

More sadness.

[sigh]
Still, that doesn’t mean we’re giving up! Oh no, upon finding far too many baby squash beetles crawling all over our plants, we went out and got some peppermint castile soap. Castile soap can be used as a natural insecticide, for one, and supposedly squash beetles don’t like peppermint. We tried the soap — a mixture of 1/4 cup of soap to a quart of water — for the first time this past weekend, after waiting for a few bouts of rain to subside. And…it’s working? Well, we think it might be. The baby squash bugs are still on the plants, but they aren’t in their normal clusters. Instead, they’ve scattered. And there may be a couple less adult bugs. But it’s too early to tell. We’ll respray the plants every few days over the next couple weeks and hope for the best. Interestingly, the bugs only seem to enjoy a couple particular plants, namely the zucchini and butternut squash. A few of the plants look to be untouched, though it seems they all have signs of squash beetle eggs, at least. So the whole bed is getting sprayed, regardless.

While that whole situation stinks, there are some good things that have happened and are happening in the garden. For one, we picked a bunch of cucumbers and made a couple batches of bread and butter pickles.

Just need to hold off on opening them for a few weeks. Gonna be tough!

Our volunteer tomato plant turned out to be a yellow cherry tomato of some sort, and it’s been producing like mad!

These could be Yellow Gooseberries, Sunpeach Hybrids, or some other variation. Whatever they are, they are very sweet! The green ones are a variety called Green Vernissage – they were free seeds we got this year.

Oh, and flowers! Our snapdragons have come along nicely, and we’ve now got strawflowers! They are much taller than we expected, and they have prettiest blooms. Their petals feel slightly papery, hence the “straw” in their name.

The Black Prince snapdragons are a deep maroon…
…while the Apple Blossom snapdragons are a pretty shade of pink.
The strawflowers have the most gorgeous blooms!
This one’s reminiscent of a daisy – so lovely!

That’ll do it for another week. We’ll be back next time with our second round-up in pictures…and hopefully some of them will show improvement in the squash!

In which we fight back against the war they started (the squirrels and rabbits, that is…)

This weekend was going so well until this happened:

squirrel

And this:

rabbit

UGH!

Okay, let me back up a little.

At the end of last weekend, we had planned to do some tomato and pepper transplanting this weekend. It sounded all well and good; but once yesterday (Saturday) rolled round, we found ourselves to be simply exhausted. After several weekends in a row of work, work, work, we just needed a break. So we decided to take the weekend off. And it promised to be glorious!

Now, its not like we completely ignored the outside — we did a few small chores of course. But we laid off any major work in favor of relaxing and catching up on rest. No running to the Home Depot, no planting, no moving stuff from one end of the yard to the other. Or, that’s how Saturday went. (And it was glorious!)

We thought about transplanting stuff this (Sunday) morning, but the thought never really translated into action, and that was fine with us. However, our respite turned out to be short-lived. Every morning (or evening) we go out and survey how the plants are doing. Sometimes we find stuff like this:

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Our watermelons are breaking through! Woohoo!
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Who’s got four thumbs and are gonna be making some mad stir-fry? These guys! (Us. That’s how the joke works.)
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The cucumbers are gonna start trellising any day now!

And this stuff makes us very happy!

But then sometimes we go outside and find this:

Meteor Crater in Arizona by Smithsonian.com (source)
Meteor Crater in Arizona by Smithsonian.com (source)

Okay, so not really. But we did find several holes in our corn patch, including a dug up corn plant. A little later, we also found a lovely rabbit hole, complete with a little grass bed, in our carrots. So the feeling was similar to being hit by a meteorite. Sort of.

After the lengths to which we went to try to protect the corn and our other garden plants (we’ll get into a discussion about cat hair later on), this violation was completely unacceptable.  Having caught several squirrels and rabbits digging up other parts of the garden, we were pretty sure who was behind the transgression. We went into a brief, reactionary rage, followed by a trip to the Internet, specifically YouTube with the search term “SQUIRREL REPELLANT.”`

The Internet, it is a strange and wonderful place. On YouTube we were treated to all manner of ways to get rid of squirrels, rabbits, and other pests from one’s garden, from ultrasonic devices to motion-controlled sprinklers. But we wanted a solution that required spending little to no money. We knew that outdoor rodents disliked onion, garlic, pepper, cayenne pepper, red pepper, and the like. Many on the Internet confirmed this; and we also learned that other unfavorable smells included mint, peppermint, and cinnamon. We took all this information and steeped it, literally, into a “tea.” A disgusting, eye-burning, gut-wrenching tea.

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Yum? Not on your life.

In a pot that will never, ever be used to cook human-grade food, we placed the following:

Water
Cayenne pepper
Red pepper flakes
Hot chili powder
Minced garlic
Sliced onion

We brought all that to a boil and then let it steep for 20 minutes. It was really gross. Once it had cooled enough, we strained it into a spray bottle into which we had dropped some hot sauce, sriracha, a few drops of peppermint oil, and a few drops of cinnamon oil. Luckily, no Disney-esque demonic spirits were released from the potent mixture. Also, it was really, really gross.

Then, out to the garden we went. And we sprayed, and sprayed, and sprayed, using up about half of the nasty stuff. We kept an eye on things throughout the evening, and so far so good. No more plant dismantling, no more rodent circus in the back yard…for now. Unfortunately, it’s due to rain over the next day, so we’re not entirely sure if the concoction will keep it’s potency through wet weather. Thankfully (or not so much) we made enough for another application or two. But the bottle is not allowed back in the house. It’s been banished to the porch. Hopefully it won’t melt through the concrete.

The moral of the story: there are no days off in gardening. Also, would the world really miss a little gray squirrel or two or twelve? Is there a shortage of white-tailed rabbits? Hmmm…let’s just be thankful, I guess, that we don’t have deer.

And yeah, we’re back to work next weekend