Pest Management: What Killed Your Squash Plant

THE PEST: Squash Vine Borer aka Squash Bug aka your worst nightmare if you are trying to grow anything from the Cucurbitaceae family, this includes squash, watermelon, zucchinis or pumpkins. 

 Squash Vine Borers (Melittia satyriniformis) drop eggs onto thick vine type crops that hatch into grubby white caterpillar and will take down your entire plant.

Squash Vine Borers (Melittia satyriniformis) drop eggs onto thick vine type crops that hatch into grubby white caterpillar and will take down your entire plant.

INFESTATION SYMPTOMS: A couple of WTFs are usually one of the early signs a squash bug has been spotted in your growing space. Once referred to around my house as that crazy alien bird beetle that's hovering (yes hovering) over my pumpkin patch. These guys can take down an entire plant within a few days. Infestations are usually spotted too late, but your leafs will start to wilt and the plant will begin to collapse and then die. The vines will also become mushy and rotten.

These guys are really a location based problem. The vine borer can spot Cucurbitaceae from miles away and will keep coming back year after year to your pumpkin patch. Nothing really helps so put your wallet away and plan to pull eggs from your plant daily for about two weeks out of the year sometime between July and August.. So worth it, because who doesn't want to grow their own squash?! If you have been overwhelmed year after year by Vine Borer infestations try planting butternut squash only, rumor has it they are resistant to the vine borer take down. 

 

 

Check the underside of leafs and the base of your plant for brown small poppyseed like eggs. Remove the eggs with your fingernail or a dull knife. Once you've discovered a few eggs check back daily until egg laying has stopped.

The Vine Borer will only lay eggs for about two weeks out of the season.

Good luck! Happy Vine Borer Hunting!!

Pest Management: Friend or Foe

This time of year, we often see lots of little critters, crawling, creeping and flying around our plant friends. And every year we scratch our heads, wondering which of these creatures are friends and which ones are foes.

So this year, we enlisted the help of our talented illustrator friend Rachel, to get the down low on which critters should stay and which ones should go!

Good luck gardeners!

 Original Illustration Provided by  Rachel Rolseth

Original Illustration Provided by Rachel Rolseth

Speaking Tomato: What Your Plant is Trying to Tell You

It's around August each year that our tomato plants start developing all kinds of interesting looking spots and defects. 

Use our diagram to identify what your plant is trying to tell you about its current state. We explain solutions and tips to solve these common Tomato Plant problems.

In many instances, if your plant is to far gone pull the plant but DO NOT compost, you could be spreading the disease to your compost bin, no bueno. With that said, many of these issues can be avoided next year by rotating your plants locations, mulching thoroughly and avoiding overhead water (keep those leafs dry!). 

 Illustration by  Ashley Barlow Art.

Illustration by Ashley Barlow Art.

VIRUSES
Do you have a sad tiny plant that isn't producing much fruit and has misshapen odd leafs unlike any of your other tomato plants? There are more than 20 common viruses that can impact your plants health and harvest. The sad fact is you should really pull and destroy these plants immediately to prevent the virus from spreading. Chin up, there's always next year!
 

LEAF WILT
Avoid over-watering tomato plants; just because a plant is wilted doesn't mean it needs more water. Check the soil; if the soil is dry (does not stick to your finger) then water your plant concentrating the water at the base of the plant, not overhead. 

 

PESTS (Caterpillars + Whitefly + Greenflly + Blackflly + Slugs)
Inspect your plant's leafs every few days for holes, bumps or bugs. Plant spearmint (in pots to prevent spreading), clover or daisies in proximity to your tomato plants to attract paper wasps, a natural predator of the horned caterpillar that rarely have stingers (next year to do list, check!). Feel free to manually remove pests at the end of a rough day with a big squish between your fingers (hey it's also organic). If you think you have slugs apply a thin layer of Diatomaceos Earth dust around the base of each tomato plant. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help fend off pests. 

 

RED SPIDER MITES
Look for thin spiderwebs all over the plant or for the spider and eggs themselves on the underside of the leafs. Spray plants with a fine mist of water, twice daily, as the spider mite can only thrive in hot dry conditions. An insecticidal soap picked up at your neighborhood garden center (we like Eggplant Urban Farm Supply) will also help but should be sprayed every week.


GREENBACK
You may start spotting the green unripened areas around the stem of the plant. Because this problem is caused by high heat and too much sun you really can only prevent this from happening by providing some shade for the plant (eg. a trellis, other taller plants or trees, we like giant sun flowers). Tomatoes with greenback are still edible, just cut the green sections off or allow them to ripen more in doors in a brown paper bag for a day or two.

 

SUN SCORCH
This will first begin to appear as a white or yellow spotted area on the upper side of tomato that faces the sun. It's not really dangerous to the plant but long bouts of high heat can cause the fruit to blister then you might get fungal problems. Cages can help and a little extra nitrogen in the soil but rethink next year's planting spot. Give the plants a little shade provided by a fence or taller plants. If you know your growing space is susceptible to Sun Scorch plant tomato varieties that naturally have larger heavier foliage


TOMATO BLIGHT
Early tomato blight forms spots on the leaves, which then turn yellow and die. The spots may start out small and shrunken and as they get bigger they get longer. Spots which are on the stem near the ground can cause the stem to shrink.
Avoid overhead watering (do we sound like a broken record yet?) by watering at the base of the plant. Water your plants only in the mornings to give the leafs time to dry out. If you see anything that even remotely looks like blight, begin a spraying program of alternating organic copper spray, and Serenade biological fungicide, both of which are safe to use on edibles. If you have Late Blight (blue gray spots on the leafs and fruit that are turning brown) pull the effected plant immediately.
Real talk, I plant a few extra plants (spaced far apart to prevent overcrowding but also to prevent problems from spreading)  and if any of my plants show any sign of blight I pull the plant. The earlier the better to prevent it from spreading to other healthier plants. 


BLOSSEM END ROT
If you've spotted a dark, rotting spot on the bottom of your tomatoes the soil pH should be 6.5 to 6.8 to free more calcium in the soil chemistry. Test results will indicate the amount of lime to add. Even better, lime also contains calcium. Work the lime into the top 12 inches of soil. Use a lime labeled “fast-acting,” which is better than ground limestone unless you have weeks to wait for the lime to react in the soil. If the pH is already correct, the soil test will recommend a different calcium source, such as gypsum.  Also, add crumbled egg shells to your compost or bury them in your garden over time to help maintain the calcium levels. 


FRUIT SPLITTING
This is almost unavoidable during the end of a growing season, unless you are in a green house. Water regularly and fertilize the soil often to keep the plant happy and the soil around it healthy. We like Dr.Earth on our tomatoes. 


 

Pest Management: Aphids 101

These are aphids... aka "plant lice"... Yummy!!

 One type of aphid infestation.

One type of aphid infestation.

Aphids  come in a variety of colors and there are aprox 4,400 species known, but most are small just like these little green ones I had attacking my sage plants.

When I first noticed the tiny insects, I shook them off the plant but didn't think much of it (bad call).

What makes these little dudes so bad?

  • Aphid infestations can destroy an entire plant and if left untreated, they can spread to surrounding plants (source)
  • These pests suck out plant sap, damaging leaves, stems, and flowers in the process (source)
  • Heavy infestations will cause leaves to curl, wilt or yellow and stunted plant growth and several species can transmit plant diseases, particularly viruses which they pass on during feeding (source)
  • As they feed, aphids secrete large amounts of a sticky fluid known as honeydew. This sweet goo drips onto plants, attracting ants and promoting a black sooty mold growth on leaves (source)
  • They reproduce extremely fast, like 80 new bugs a day fast..

After reading about different ways to approach the invasion naturally, I tried one out.

 Aphids eating a sage plant

Aphids eating a sage plant

After inspecting all of the surrounding plants, the infestation seemed to be concentrated on the sage plants (thankfully) so I thoroughly inspected their leaves, stems and base.

Most of the aphids were towards the top so I squished them (yep) by pressing the sage leaves together firmly. This seemed to be fairly effective and although it's not the nicest way to get rid of them, it does ensures they won't spread  all over the of the garden if you were to just brush them off.

 Squish!

Squish!

 Paint with soapy mixture

Paint with soapy mixture

Then I made a soapy mixture using an organic plant based soap, got my paint brush out and gave the plant a little bath.

 Check the back of leaves for bugs, worms, eggs, etc.

Check the back of leaves for bugs, worms, eggs, etc.

I checked the plants a few times a day for the first 2 days after that and did find a few new aphids but I just squished those too and after almost 2 weeks, this has totally worked.

More on this later I'm sure..

Happy insect wars!