Monday, July 15, 2013

Natural Squash Bug Killer recipe

Ah, squash bugs- the bane of any gardener who grows any type of squash!  These nasty little suckers attack zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, melons, and other related plants (cucurbits).  The complete life cycle of the squash bug commonly requires six to eight weeks, which is why if you catch them early you can at least reduce their numbers, if not eliminate them completely.  Squash bugs overwinter as adults in plant debris, so it's a good idea to thoroughly clean up your garden in the fall.  We also let our chickens free range in our large fenced garden during the winter and up until planting time in the spring.  Chickens love nice juicy squash bugs!
The adult squash bug (Anasa tristis) measures 1.4 to 1.6 cm in length and is dark grayish brown in color.  Adults can live 75 to 130 days, depending on availability and quality of food.  This is a picture of a pair of mating squash bugs I took recently (before destroying the pair).

 The squash bug causes severe damage to cucurbits because it secretes highly toxic saliva into the plant. They feed primarily on the leaves, but will also attack the fruits sometimes. The foliage wilts, becomes blackened, and dies following feeding; this malady is sometimes called "anasa wilt."  A large number of squash bugs can kill an entire plant, and even if the plant survives the attack, your harvest can be severely reduced. 
Squash bugs typically deposit about 20 eggs per cluster on the underside of leaves.  You can see what the eggs look like above.  I've also seen them lay their eggs along the stem, and I even saw a cluster on the trellis once.  When you spot these egg clusters just smoosh between your finger and thumb (I wear garden gloves), otherwise in about 7 to 9 days you'll have a bunch of nymphs like these ready to ravage your garden.
Your best bet for control is to catch the adults early in the spring before they can start mating and laying eggs.  You can hand pick them and drop them in a pail of soapy water to kill them.  Early morning is the best time for this as they move more slowly at this time.  Check the base of your plants and the underside of the leaves.  The adults can be difficult to kill with insecticide (and I prefer not to use any chemicals in my garden).  The nymphs are much more vulnerable though, and that's where my natural squash bug killer recipe comes in. 

1 jalapeno pepper
1 small onion
6 cloves of garlic
1 Tblsp. liquid dish soap
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. neem oil
1 qt. warm water
You can either finely chop the pepper, onion, and garlic, or use your food processor or blender.  Place these in a quart jar, add baking soda and neem oil, then add the water.  Add the soap last to avoid a sudsy mess (I learned the hard way- LOL).  Put the lid on and shake gently to mix everything together and let sit for 24 to 48 hours.  Strain out the solids (I use a fine mesh coffee filter) and pour the liquid into a handheld sprayer.

I take the sprayer with me every time I go out to the garden, but I only spray when I see the bugs.  I don't want to just douse all the plants because I'll also end up inadvertently killing beneficial insects.  I try not to spray the blossoms or the growing tips either because these are tender parts of the plant and might get damaged by the spray.  I also want to encourage pollinators, so I don't want the smell of the spray on the flowers to drive them away.  I only spray when I have to; even though this is a safe and natural control method, less is usually better.  If I can I'll simply cut off a leaf with all the nymphs on it and feed it to the chickens.  If you're careful the nymphs will stay right on the leaf, and removing the leaf won't harm the plant.

I've had great success using these methods, and although there are still squash bugs in the garden, they're not causing nearly the amount of damage they would  have if I hadn't been so vigilant from the beginning of the season. I hope these tips and the recipe are helpful for you as well.  Another bonus is that if you grow your own garlic, onions, and hot peppers like I do then your cost is fairly minimal.

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

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