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Intrepid Urban Farmer: When Satan comes to call on the garden, he’s got a name — Squash Vine Borer

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By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

Satan was in my backyard last week.  He took me by surprise.  He was much more intimidating than I had anticipated.  He was olive green and red with a row of black dots down his back– just like the pictures I had seen.  He had what must have been horns.  He swooped in with an undeniable malevolence.

For years, I have been victimized by this paragon of evil. It had always been a phantom evil.  I had never laid eyes on this dark energy that insisted on sabotaging my gardening efforts.

SATAN, otherwise knows as an adult Squash Vine Borer. Yuk! (Photos by Ginger Dawson)

For some reason, I had it in my head that he was going to be the size of a lightning bug.  He was much larger, about an inch and a half long (Ok. for a bug, that’s big.  It’s all relative).  It was shock and awe….and  EW!

An adult Squash Vine Borer, brazen and little careless for once, tried to attack my zucchini AGAIN and I was not having it.  This was a showdown I was itching for.

It became Tombstone, Arizona in the backyard of the Italianate on Russell Street.  Fortunately, I was armed.  I had a spray bottle of Pyrethrin in my holster, loaded for just such an occasion.  

I had been using the Pyrethrin to treat the main stems and soil around my zucchini.  I, obsessively and diligently, had been inspecting my plants several times a day in an attempt to monitor the inevitable attack that I always seemed to be helpless to thwart.

Zucchini plants looking glorious — and it’s July 19th

The plants had been progressing nicely and there was no evidence of that nasty, wet sawdusty stuff called “frass” at the base of the stems.  Frass is essentially Squash Vine Borer poop.  Of course, it’s poop.  Everything about this creature is vile.  

Inspecting these plants is no easy thing.  They are enormous; the best ones I’ve ever raised.  And, as such, since this particular variety doesn’t have an open habit (meaning that the leaves and stems are very crowded), I have to pull the foliage apart and get right down in them, head and all, to see what’s going on.   Finding zucchini to harvest is like a treasure hunt, or a needle in a haystack, depending on my mood.

One day this past week, when I was on sentry duty, it happened.  I was just about to go undercover.  I had started to separate the leaves and there he was…..Satan!

He flew up and landed on a leaf right in front of me.  I was stunned and practically fell back on my rear end.  I caught myself, had my moment of disbelief (he was HUGE) and came out shooting.  It was Tombstone and I was one of the Earps.  I wielded that squirt bottle with zeal and precision (fortunately it was double action) and I nailed that sucker!

I actually have had this shootout twice!  The second time there was no shock or hesitation to my action.  I moved cat-like, with the surety of a trained assassin and took it out.  My sense of satisfaction was complete—at least as far as Squash Vine Borers are concerned.

Zucchini, p close and personal

Being the sort that keeps detailed records, I checked back, and in 2014, I was able to keep my zucchini alive until July 14th.  That had been the longest time frame I had managed.  That was a big moment.  One would have thought I would have continued along with that success and built on it.  But, no, not me.  Instead of doing that, I went to other methods which were quite novel and turned out to be detours down dead-end streets (with dead zucchini).  

Note to self:  That gardening world’s equivalent to Popeil’s Pocket Fisherman, Straw bale gardening, is not the solution to your horticultural woes.   What a primrose path THAT was. The squash vine borers were as happy with straw as they are with dirt.  Monsters!

Forunately, as I recount above, I remembered that 2014 plan and had a eureka moment.  As per usual, my eureka moments are sometimes a little tardy.  I finally reviewed that approach and built on it.  I also included my new plan of obsessive patrolling with the policy of “shoot to kill”.

As of July 19th., my zucchini plants are still standing.  I am hopeful that I can continue to harvest until the end of July.  Who knows?  Maybe I can keep them going past the rotten pest’s normal gestation period.  This will be a major success.

Those of you who are the greenhouse owning elite and view my difficulties with smug amusement….be kind.  Satan could show up at your door.  Evil has no boundaries.

Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it.

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