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It’s becoming a summer ritual, but nothing fun like going out for ice cream or sitting outside enjoying the sunshine. Nevertheless, it begins every year around this time. We are preparing for battle against the squash vine borer.

Found several eggs on this plant -- very hard to spot

Found several eggs on this plant — very hard to spot (yes they’re in the picture)

I’ve written extensively about this problem before and always hope for the best. This summer we found vine borer eggs on our yellow squash and zucchini plants. They are hard to spot — very tiny light brown eggs laid on the plants not in clusters but individually.

My new nightly ritual for the next few weeks will be inspecting every inch of the plants, picking off and crushing any eggs I find.

Also, we’re taking a proactive approach and injecting each stem with Bt, a natural bacteria that can kill the borer if it hatches and tunnels into the vines. If the past few years are any indication, we’ll lose at least some of the zucchini and squash. If it happens again, we’re done with zucchini for at least a year or two so it can move on to someone else’s garden.

 

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We tried. We really did. Being vigilant about searching for and destroying eggs, watching for any signs of damage — we did it all. But it still didn’t work. The damn squash vine borer got our zucchini and yellow squash.

This shows squash vine borer damage on our zucchini plant. The frass is a sign of an infestation.

This shows squash vine borer damage on our zucchini plant. The frass is a sign of an infestation.

I noticed the tell-tale signs of frass a couple weeks ago. It looks a lot like sawdust and it meant our summer squash plants would die soon. That’s when I sprung into action and tried the Bt to stop the grubby invaders.

I’ve mentioned this before but for those who don’t know, Bt is a natural bacteria that messes with the borer’s digestion when they eat it. So as soon as we noticed the frass, I was armed with my garden syringe and a jug of Bt (it has to be mixed with water), stabbing away at the stems and injecting the solution.

This was the first time I tried using the Bt solution, and you know what? It worked like a charm. The zucchini plant has rebounded (for the most part), and there are even a couple growing again!

Even if we don’t get any more, I’ll at least count this as a success.

Related: How to control SVB

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Our tomatoes are finally starting to turn red. We’ve harvested a handful of zucchini and cucumbers, plus an eggplant and a few Anaheim peppers. Not to mention all the fresh herbs we need.

Delicious homegrown cucumbers.

Delicious homegrown cucumbers.

So far, it’s been a decent season and could end up being one of our better gardening years. But of course not everything is perfect. Despite our efforts to crush the cucumber beetle and wipe away any trace of the squash vine borer, we’ve lost a few battles.

I suspect what made the leaves on two of our cucumber plants shrivel and die was bacterial wilt transmitted by the cucumber beetle. Either that or serious damage from a mega-infestation of squash bugs, which I promptly doused in insecticidal soap.

We did lose one of our yellow squash volunteers to the squash vine borer, as well as half of another yellow squash plant that somehow divided itself in two after it was in the garden.

While all this is upsetting, I’m trying to look on the bright side of things. Where we had to tear out the cucumber plants is a great place to plant a fall crop of peas, and the dead squash plant frees up a pot for some more fall lettuce.

 

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Maybe the third time really is the charm. While I feel it’s too early to say we’ve won our long battle with the squash vine borer, all signs are pointing to success. I despise this little creature and it’s been the bane of my gardening experience for the past three years.

First, a bit of background. Three years ago we were happily watching our zucchini, yellow squash and cucumber plants bloom and blossom. I even picked one yellow squash on the plant and was looking forward to more to come. Then one day, we went out to check on the plants and saw those three were brown, wilted and dead. It really seemed to happen overnight.

Being new to gardening, we couldn’t figure it out. We watered them enough, kept weeds out and they had plenty of sunlight. So what gives? After some research on gardening websites, we learned that it wasn’t really our fault. It was the squash vine borer that ravaged our plants.

It was already too late in the season to find any new plants, so we chalked it up to a loss and decided to try again next year. Last year we were prepared for battle, knew what to look for and were ready to defend our zucchini plants. But it still happened. I noticed a little bit of wilting and then saw the entry hole in one of the stems.

Armed with toothpicks and a paring knife, I slit open the affected stems, found the borer and stabbed it with the toothpick. Then we covered the hole with dirt and hoped the plants recovered. The good news is they didn’t die. The bad news is they didn’t produce any more fruit. And if a squash did start growing, it seemed to shrivel up as quickly as it grew.

Our yellow squash plant is doing much better this year than it has in the past two summers. We’re still a bit wary of the squash vine borer killing these again.

Which brings us to this summer. I am determined to grow zucchini and cucumber and beat this damn borer. Here was our plan this year and so far it seems to be working.

  1. New location. We moved the squash plants as far away as we could from the bed it was in last year while still getting it full sun.
  2. Planting late. Usually we plant everything in mid- to late-May. This year we waiting until late June to avoid the breeding/egg laying season of the wasp-like adult borer.
  3. Obsessive checking.  I thoroughly researched (again) what the egg sacks looked like and studied pictures of frass (made from the borer’s entry hole). Every day, I examined the stems for signs of it and crushed anything I thought was an egg sack. This also meant slicing open the stem of a cucumber plant that died to check for the squash vine borer (I found nothing).
  4. Plant a back-up. We also planted another zucchini plant in a pot and placed it far away from the ones in the bed, so if either succumbed to the squash vine borer, there would be another one growing.
  5. Luck. While we tried to do everything right, sometimes things get missed. I did notice a couple breaks in the stems (which I later learned are called healthy splits), and we did lose one cucumber plant, but right now the squash plants are full of blossoms and looking healthy.

This website has some good information and pictures of the squash vine borers. The discussion in the comment section is also helpful.

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