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Please begin with an informative title:

And Squirrels even get a mention....

I was going to just make a comment on one of the comments to yesterday's diary entry, but it got so long I figured I should be better served to make it a diary entry of its own

Stink bugs, vine borer beetles, caterpillars, Oh My!  All of those nasties can make your gardening life less than pleasant; they are really terrible to have get into your crops.

I use four main approaches and several other minor ones.  The first two are simple, insecticidal soap and light-weight horticultural oil (also known as orchard oil) sprayed on the vines.  The soap will kill the caterpillars - and any bug eggs! - which it gets on.  The ones already inside the vine are not going to get hit with that (being already protected inside), so I follow up the soap spray with a goodly dousing of horticultural oil spray.  The oil spray will fill up the hole they bored into, to begin with, and cover any other entry spots, cutting off oxygen to the insect inside the vine.  The caterpillar will either die of asphyxiation inside the vine, or else bore its way out to get some air, where they become susceptible to being eaten by a bird or other insect, or getting the soap spray or more oil on them (killing them as well), or being exposed to one or more of the other two bullets in the anti-critter-pillar gun.

(See those two, and more, just below the "Great Orange Cheesy-Poof of Death!")

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For the soap and the oil sprays, just follow the label directions for both products.

They're not dangerous to humans or pets, but will both kill beneficial insects just as well as the baddies eating your vegetables.  So don't spray indiscriminately, and apply carefully to avoid spraying things you need to keep around.  (Such as honey bees!!)

Then comes B T,  bacillus thuringensis, which is sold some times as  Dipel, Thuricide and Green Step, Japonicide, or several other brand names.  It is a bacterial infection in beetles, causes them to stop eating and die.  It WILL kill Ladybird Beetles (Ladybugs) if as larvae they eat an infected insect, so you need to be careful where you apply it.  But mainly, this form of BT ONLY kills caterpillars that munch on the sprayed plant part; it affects nothing else. So spray the vines once a week and there will be BTK on the stem when that nasty, hungry caterpillar comes out and starts munching.

It is completely NON-TOXIC to people and pets and almost all other wildlife.  If you drank a bunch of it, you'd probably vomit it up because it is rather a nasty mixture, but it won't really hurt you.  That said, DON'T DRINK THIS STUFF, OK?  It's nasty even if it won't kill you.  Blecch!!

The other thing that is good for almost ANY insect infestation is Diatomaceous Earth, or simply "D E" for short.  DON'T be fooled into getting some sort of tiny bag of the stuff with all kinds of advertising on it, for a fancy price.  Just get the filter-grade stuff, it is used in swimming pools and the like as a filtration medium,  and you get about a ~25-kilo (50-pound or so) sack of it, for not a lot of wonga at the check-out stand.  

Apply it with a 'puffer' style air pumper dingus, you can get a plastic cheapy one from about any home and garden or hardware store for a few dollars, should last several years with care.  Spread the D E dust anywhere you see insects that you don't want; squash vines, corn ears where they are forming, bean vines and bushes, grape vines, the soil around plants where there are bad bugs, just about anywhere.

D E is the shells of microscopic water critters, kind of like miniature shrimp, and their empty shells are sharp, made of silica - same thing as sand - which scratches and cuts the outer shells of insects that are exposed to it.

If you are using your thinker, this should tell you something about this substance, by the way, safety-wise.  

DON'T BREATHE IT!!

Wear a mask when you're dusting it around, to be on the safe side.  Probably won't really do you much harm in low exposures, but I suspect it's cumulative, and I am quite sure you don't want to make a habit of huffing diatoms into your lungs.  Coughing up blood sounds so attractive, and that's likely what you would eventually wind up doing, so DON'T.  Just don't, OK?  Be on the safe side.  Lungs and eyes and D E shouldn't mix.  (Yes, EYES.  Sharp.  Scratchy.  In Eyeballs??  NOT GOOD.  Avoid.)

You might wonder how this can be effective, since the main effect is just some small scratches in the shells of bugs.  It is, though, quite.  Insects are sort of fragile a lot of ways, and one of those weak spots is in their internal moisture balance.

If they dry out just a couple of percent, they are really weakened.  Another couple of percent of water lost, and they die.  Those itsy-bitty scratches in their water-conserving chitin (their "exoskeleton" - the hard shells they use on their outsides to maintain shape and support their innards, instead of internal bones) allow them to lose a lot of water in a hurry, which causes them to almost immediately stop eating and then shortly, die.

In my opinion, your absolute BEST --defense-- against vine borers, stink bugs, and squash bugs, is NOT to get them to begin with.  Don't plant squash or pumpkins in the same space year after year.  The adults lay their last batch of eggs before winter not on vines but in the ground, right where they found food before.  If you put squash back there again next year, when those eggs hatch they will be sitting right underneath all the food they need to grow and keep the cycle of infestation going.

NOT doing this is known as "crop rotation" and it applies to a LOT of things, including plant nutrients, crop disease organisms, as well as bugs.  Lots of advantages to doing it correctly.

The LOWEST-TECH, and really the absolutely most-effective method is to wipe the bug eggs off of the plants as you see 'em, and actively LOOK for them at least once and preferably  a couple of times per day.  Use a soft, smooth cotton or other absorbent kind of cloth to wipe the vines, knocking the eggs loose.  I suspect a paper towel would work as well, but I just tend to use a bandanna or some kind of rag which was handy at that time.

If you moisten the cloth in one of the B T products, or insecticidal soap, it will work even better.  the residue of the soap in particular can wind up on the adults as they try to lay eggs, and -might- even kill a few of them, too.  Any eggs that are in the ground, or which are missed, when they hatch and the caterpillar is trying to get into the vine will be exposed to the soap or B T organisms (by eating it), and that will eliminate them.

This works phenomenally well - when all you have are a few plants.  When you're into actual acreage and large numbers of plants (like me), well, it can be not so effective.  You just can't keep up some times, and they get in while you're back is turned dealing with corn ear worms or something.

So one of the best things to do is to expand your anti-bug army; add to the number of eyes on the problem.

GET YOU SOME BLOODY BEAKIN' SQUAWKIN' -BIRDS- ON THE JOB!!  (Either of the feathered sort, or the teenage yappers, but the birds are probably the better bargain, work cheaper, and won't drive you crazy with their incessant chatter quite so quickly as a flock of teenage female humans. (AKA  "Birds" in the vernacular.)

Attract them, about any way you can think of to do it.  Plant bird-attracting plants, for food or for living quarters.  Make and place nest boxes and place materials out in the early Spring which bug-eating birds like to use for their nests.

My wife, being heavy into the quilting "counter-culture" saves small fabric scraps and those wads of thread you get when the sewing machine goes haywire.  She also saves the cotton batting scraps from the trimmed-off edges of the cloth "sandwich" when she pins the top and bottom and batting together prior to sewing the quilting part.  (She does both machine and hand quilting, for those who care.)

Another HUGE nest material addition, which we provide in literal baskets-full  - and if you look into nests anywhere within about a kilometer of our place you will likely find some of this - is the brushed-out DOG HAIR from our Great Pyrenees (our boy Merlin) and our Newfoundland (the incomparable, smooshy, baby-girl Chloe).  (She is a very BIG baby girl, our Chlo-bird, and she's almost nine, which is getting quite old for a Newfie so she isn't a baby to anyone but us.)

We have had both of these beasties from puppyhood, and they have been shedding about a Pekingese-worth of fur a day, every day of the world, every Spring, every Fall, and MUCH more of the same when they blow their coats for the change of season.

It's a never-ending battle with the fur.  (And the mud when it's raining outside; they bring HUGE amounts in, and we keep a mop and a broom handy constantly.  It's quite the challenge, having dogs that out-mass me, in oh so very many ways.  But they're worth the mess and the trouble.  Nothing like a big, sloppy, 'slurpy-kiss' delivered from a bouncing baby Newfie puppy.)  When I brush them, which is at least daily and more often twice a day, I take the fur off of the brush and put it in a mesh onion sack, then hang the sack off of the eaves over our back deck.  The birds know this stuff is there, it has been in constant supply for years now, and they come by the dozens to snatch wads of it to line their nests.

When they're blowing coat at the multiple-Pekingese-per-hour rate, I take the whole heap (In bushel baskets-full, and I am NOT joking or exaggerating in the slightest.) out to the compost heap and pile it on there.  Any the birds don't get, or which the wind doesn't send into the trees, is soon just nitrogen in the compost.

Very high in nitrogen, hair, and I even know people who sweep up at a barber's twice or three times a week, just so they can get the hair for their compost pile.

So, promote and protect birds.  Get some chickens and make yourself a chicken-tractor portable coop.  Set chicken-wire over PVC pipe withies/hoops to make tunnel runs for chickens, or quail, or whatever sort of domesticated fowl, to run in.  Caveat: ONLY put the birds on rows of fully-grown plants, or raw, unplanted earth.  Shoots and young sprouts, even small plants, will be snipped off and eaten by chickens and geese in particular, so don't put the birds on freshly-sprouted beds.

And there are always poisons, for the intractable cases.  I do NOT recommend them for anything less than "biblical" hordes of bugs, and even then you're likely to be able to get control with just the oil and soap.

For squash vine borers specifically, don't even BOTHER with poison pesticides once the little nasties are inside there eating.  They are shielded from the stuff by the vine in which they are eating.  Insecticides applied after the borer is inside the stem are just not going to be effective so don't waste your money, and don't poison yourself, your neighbours (, or your grand-children).

Instead, take an Exacto knife or scalpel, or other VERY sharp, thin blade and slit the infested stems lengthwise, expose the little moth larva (Momma Moth is generally either red-bellied and looks a little like a wasp, or metallic green in colour; actually they are almost pretty insects...  And I hate them passionately and kill all the adults I can find.) and destroy the borer.  Stabbity-stab, cuttity-cut.  No more critter-pillar.

If the plant hasn't already pretty much just died from all of the tunneling, cover the slitted and damaged but now bug-free portion of the stem with soil. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy,  to encourage new roots to grow. The vine may recover.   Or it might die, but if it does recover you will get probably 85% of the crop you would have otherwise from it.  Worth trying, anyway.

Another thing to consider, the eggs of most of these pests are laid either on the squash vine itself, or the late-season hatching will put its eggs directly in the ground to over-winter and wait to ambush next year's crop.  They find their initial, Spring, egg depositing places by either finding places where the vines are just starting to grow, or where they were grown previously, as evidenced (to the moth looking for a place to put some eggs) by old squash leaves, rotted fruit residues, and vines on or partially buried in the ground.

THIS IS A HINT.

They lay eggs where old vines were.  SO DON'T LET THEM FIND ANY OLD VINES!  Once the squash, cucurbits, melons, and so forth are finished for the year, PULL UP all the vines, rake up all the leaves and rotten excess fruits, and move them to the compost heap FURTHEST from where you will be growing next year's crop of those vegetables.

(Hint Number Two:  Next year's squash bed - WHICH IS NOT THE SAME SPOT AS THIS YEAR'S CROP!  The last batch of them lays eggs in the soil to wait over the winter for the next year's crop.  STARVE 'EM TO DEATH!  The newly-hatched caterpillars don't have the strength or the food reserves to crawl more than a couple of meters looking for a squash vine to bore into.  If there aren't any vines to get into, they starve to death, and this breaks the cycle of infestation.)

You might consider burning the leaves and vines, and composting any squishy squash that have gone beyond being people-food, spreading the ashes on the ground, for the potassium and other nutrients.  Be sure, if you put some in the compost heap, that the compost is 'cooking' hot enough to kill the eggs.  Steaming hot is a good sign.  Read a good book or two on composting, it's a skill that every gardener ought to develop.

Ashes are good for the soil, in moderation.  Since we heat at least half of our 125-plus-year-old mausoleum of a house with wood, I have a ready supply of wood ashes to use as soil amendments and slug killer, as well.  But burning the garden plant trimmings is a good way to eliminate a lot of insects, adults as well as eggs and larvae, and also bacterial and fungal disease organisms.

Another way to break the egg-larva-pupa-adult-egg circle, and which works for other insect pests as well as vine borers and stink bugs, is to cover the plants, from the earliest seedling stage, with floating row cover cloth - "Reemay" is one brand, there are zillions of others.

Get the absolute BEST quality row cover you can afford and place it very carefully.  If you exercise care in handling it ( like not trying to get it on there alone on a windy day, that kind of thing), you can use it again next year, and maybe for three or four more years after that.

Covering it like that will keep the adult moth from being able to get to the vine to lay the eggs, and poof!  No more vine borers.

OK, other methods...

Beneficial insect-egg-eating nematodes.  You can get these from organic pest control places on the web or if you ae really lucky, locally.  When you see one of the little holes the caterpillar makes when it bores its way into your Hubbard squash vine (or whatever), mix up a small amount of the live nematode product and using a "garden syringe" (should be able to get one from the same place you get the nematodes), inject the vine with nematodes.  The nice, moist insides of the vine will keep the nematodes alive while they are searching for dinner - the nasty little caterpillar which is noshing your squash vine.  BURY the hole and the injection site, and keep it moist so roots will form there.

Oh, and for the squirrel- and raccoon- bothered, if you don't have a cat of your own, ask someone who does if you can have the (ICK!) contents of their litter boxes, the scooped-out stinky mess; pee, poop and all.  Then take that smelly gacky stuff to the perimeter of your garden  ----  NOT ON THE PLANTS IN YOUR GARDEN!! ---- and make a sort of line in the sand (or kitty-litter) with it.  Sprinkle the stuff lightly around the entire border of the garden, using as many day's-worth of the stuff, and for as many days in a row, as you need to, continuing today where you left off yesterday.  Once you have a line all the way around the place, do it again, to freshen things a bit and to fill in any spots you missed the first go-'round.  Refresh the line of demarcation maybe once a month or six weeks after that.

The smell of the cat around the place will keep a lot of squirrels away to begin with.  Cats are incredibly effective at predation of small rodents and birds.  Many rodents will just vacate the premises when they smell cat.  If they already know that the food supply in an area is particularly high-value or plentiful, then you won't completely deter them but you will make them quite nervous.  Capitalize on that with a few scare-decoys.  Owls, snakes, maybe even a coyote, they sell realistic-looking decoys for just this sort of thing.

But the litter box filling, spread judiciously around the garden area, will keep away a lot of the local pests, even DEER sometimes.  Not that a house-cat is any danger to a deer, but perhaps the smell gets confused with that of a larger predator such as a lynx, bobcat, or mountain lion.  Who knows, with a deer; they're not the brain trust of the animal kingdom.

The litter treatment works well.  Worth the bother, for squirrels anyway.

Hope some of this helps.  Poisons are NOT the way forward in almost every case, and I refuse to get started down that long, bad road.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to SemperEducandis on Wed Jul 30, 2014 at 11:23 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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