Between the Rows: Prevention is best solution to vine borers

  • This squash borer was found in my garden. These borers can grow up to an inch long before they lay their eggs, which will hide in the soil until next year. FOR THE RECORDER/PAT LEUCHTMAN

  • The damage in my affected summer squash looked exactly like the damage in Bram and Lisa’s squash. FOR THE RECORDER/PAT LEUCHTMAN

  • The staked tomatoes are pruned so that their foliage does not touch the ground and there is at least two feet between plants to allow for good air circulation. FOR THE RECORDER/PAT LEUCHTMAN

For The Recorder
Friday, August 11, 2017

It is mid-August and the harvest is coming in — tomatoes, corn, squash, cucumbers, beans, garlic and onions. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to go out to the garden and bring in the makings for a delicious supper.

On the other hand, some of us have complained of certain harvests not coming in. I grumbled that my small spinach planting went to seed almost immediately and others have told me their spinach also failed. Why? At a tour of some local vegetable gardens, one gardener said that spinach needed sweet soil — one of the few vegetables that needs a soil with a pH of 7 or a little more. And yet, most vegetables prefer a slightly acid soil. It will take a little work to arrange that in a small vegetable garden, or it will take rethinking what can be best grown in the small garden. The whole problem also reminds us of the value of a soil test.

The garden tour arranged by Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener of Temple Israel took us to several gardens within walking distance of my house. The first garden we visited is a very pretty small garden created by Lisa Ranghelli and Bram Moreinis. This was their first garden, and they showed their wisdom by saying they thought it best to start small. I admired the design, the assortment of vegetables and the exclamation points of marigolds. But also noticed a summer squash plant that had yellowing and drooping foliage. How could a single plant in a well-tended garden droop for lack of water? Well, of course, the problem was not a lack of water.

Nancee Bershof, who is an experienced gardener, took one look at the plant and then named the problem — the presence of squash borers. Never having any experience with squash borers, I was as surprised as anyone. The plant was pulled out and passed around, enabling us all to examine the damage so that we would recognize the problem in our own gardens.

When I got home that evening, I did recognize the problem in my own garden. I am only growing zucchini and yellow summer squash, so I could not see that there was anything to do but pull out the affected plants. However, if you plant butternut, or other squash growing on a vine, you can slit the stem and try to pull out the borer. If you are successful, you can then bury a section of the vine and it can make new roots and continue growing.

Prevention is the best solution to vine borers. Right after planting seeds, cover the site with a floating row cover to protect the plants as they emerge from the squash borer moth. You can also plant radish seeds around each squash hill because they will repel borers and squash bugs.

When the summer squash plants have established stems, you can wrap two inches of stem with aluminum foil to protect them and redo that foil wrapping, every week or so, as the plant grows. The foil must touch the soil. Or, you can make use of one of the safest organic pesticides — Bacillus thuringiensis, often referred to as simply Bt. You can begin a weekly regime of spraying with Btk, Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki, that can specifically control caterpillar pests like cabbage moths and vine borers.

Mary Chicoine and Glen Ayers care for another tour garden — a veritable urban homestead amazing in its size and variety. There were fruit trees, a strawberry bed, cucumber trellises and countless vegetables. Well staked tomatoes grew in one area and we were told that the staking system was designed to keep the tomato foliage up off the ground to help prevent tomato blights.

Fortunately, we did not see any tomato blights on our tour, but recently this has been a threat to our vegetable gardens and a disaster for farms. Tomato blights are caused by wind borne fungi spores. The spores take hold of tomato foliage when it is wet for several hours. There are several ways to reduce the threat:

Plant the tomatoes in a way that allows good air circulation and keeps the plants off the ground

Use drip irrigation or at least water early in the day so foliage will dry quickly

Clean up all diseased plants, foliage and remove them. It is best not to compost affected plants, and always be sure to rotate crops from year to year

Prevention is best, but if blight is caught very early, it might be possible to attack with fungicides like copper spray, oil based fungicides like Neem, or Actinovate a bacterial fungicide.

Happily, there are a number of blight resistant tomato varieties from Jasper Hybrid cherry tomato, Brandywine, Yellow Pear, Tigrella and Roma, among others.

It was inspiring to visit these gardens and see how much food can be grown on a town lot. I must also say that the riotously growing pollinator plants in the gardens — coneflowers, bee balm, rudbeckia, zinnias and others — added color and beauty. As I take stock of my garden this fall, I am trying to think of ways I might add a few more edibles than I have so far.

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980.
She lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave
comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.