Common Name: Squash Bug
Scientific Name: Order Heteroptera, family Coreidae, Anasa tristis
Size: Adult--5/8" or larger
Identification: Adults look like long stink bugs, are dark brown to black and covered with fine, dark hairs, and have a flat abdomen. Nymphs are pale green to light gray and have a reddish thorax and abdomen as they mature. Older nymphs are covered with a gray powder. Eggs are shiny metallic brown
Biology and Life Cycle: Adults over-winter in protected spots. In the spring females lay eggs in groups on both sides of leaves. Eggs hatch in one to two weeks; nymphs develop in four to six weeks with five molts. Usually one generation a year.
Habitat: Cucumber, squash, pumpkins, melons, and gourds. Foliage of cucurbits.
Feeding Habits: Adults and nymphs suck plant juices, causing foliage to wilt, blacken, and die.
Economic Importance: Can destroy crops in the cucurbit family.
Natural Control: Parasitic flies, spiders, assassin bugs, birds, and snakes.
Organic Control: Crush the copper-colored eggs when found on the backs of leaves. Hand-pick the first adults to appear in the spring. Plant lots of flowers for pollen and nectar to attract predatory flies. Cover seedlings with floating row cover and hand-pollinate. Spray compost tea, molasses, or plant oil products for serious infestations.
Insight: One of Howard's listeners has this tip: plant pink petunias among squash plants. He did this and hasn't seen a squash bug since. It's worth a try.
Another of my listeners called with a tip on controlling squash bugs and claims it works great. The technique is to put the plants in cages like those used for tomatoes. Growing the plants vertically rather than sprawled on the ground apparently keeps the bugs away. Give it a try and let us know if you have the same results. The most recent is the gardener who let us know that he ground up bay leaves and worked them into the soil before planting and had no squash bugs for the first time in many years. We all need to try this on squash vine borers. It might work on them as well.
A Malcolm Beck Story
The first few years we planted squash on both farms, the squash bugs were troublesome. We couldn't find a single easy method to control them. They overwinter in the adult stage and if you hand-pick the first to appear before they deposit eggs, you can control them. But that's a very stinky job and highly impractical on large plantings. Other than wolf spiders, no other natural enemy seems to attack them. Maybe they taste bad.
Squash bugs are another sensor insect. Perfect growing conditions are the best control. This was proven to me when, on a challenge, I grew the big pumpkin.
While visiting with Sam Cotner and Robert Dewers at the agricultural extension office one day, I was invited to ride with them to visit Tom Keeter, the head horticulturist for the city of San Antonio. I had heard of Mr. Keeter in the past, and this visit was definitely no letdown. Lush plants of all types were growing everywhere in soil--in half barrels, buckets, and hanging baskets. These ornamentals were beautiful, but they didn't excite me like his garden did. It was about an eighth of an acre filled with almost every vegetable that was in season. There were lima beans on tall trellises, tomatoes in cages, plus green beans, eggplants, and potatoes all beautifully mulched. What really caught my eye was a green pumpkin vine with some bright orange pumpkins bulging out from under the giant leaves. One of them was much larger than the rest. While I was standing there admiring it, Mr. Keeter walked up and asked, "How do you like my big pumpkin?"
Dr. Dewers had mentioned to me that Tom's garden was organic, and I guess it was the competitiveness in me that turned my admiration to a little bit of envy. I answered, "I can grow one that big!" Dr. Cotner and Dr. Dewers were standing nearby, and they jokingly sad, "Tom, why don't you give Malcolm some of those Big Mac pumpkin seeds and see what he can grow?" I love a challenge, and since I had popped off in earshot of three top agriculturists in the state, this was one challenge I would have to meet.
The following spring I chose a spot in the field close to the house and spread rotting stable bedding about two inches thick on top. Next I chiseled the soil with a sub-soiler in both directions, two feet deep, then irrigated with sprinklers to soak the soil to about that depth. After the soil dried to the correct moisture level (when a compressed handful readily breaks apart), I disk-harrowed to prepare the seedbed. Then I checked the Llewellyn moon-sign book for the best planting date, and on that date I raked up beds that were three feet in diameter and two inches high. The beds were twenty feet apart. I sprinkled about one-quarter pound of colloidal phosphate on each hill, then pressed ten pumpkin seeds tight to the phosphate-covered soil and covered the seeds and the rest of the hill with one inch of earthworm bedding. I watered each hill with a fine mist until they were well soaked. The mist works because large droplets of water tend to crust the soil, and I didn't want resistance when those seeds were ready to emerge.
After all the seeds were up, I thinned about once a week until the one best plant was left in each hill. After the soil was warm in mid-May, I mulched the whole area with another two inches of compost. Each time the plants needed watering, which wasn't very often, I sprinkled them until they got two inches of water, then foliar-fed with fish emulsion and liquid seaweed. I used two tablespoons of fish emulsion and one tablespoon of seaweed per gallon of water.
The pumpkin vines grew and grew, and after a number of fruits were set, I pinched off all except the biggest and best, leaving one to each plant. The pumpkins were really fun to watch. Each time we went to look at them, they were bigger than before. By mid-July, they were giants and still growing.
The Men's Garden Club had a flower and vegetable show at one of the shopping malls, and our organic garden club also had a show the same weekend. My pumpkins weren't mature yet. It had only been 99 days since planting, and the books say it takes 120 days to grow a pumpkin. I could see that one of my pumpkins was already bigger than Mr. Keeter's, and I couldn't wait to show it off. I cut it from the vine and weighed it. Tom's had weighed sixty-six pounds, and mine beat his by sixteen pounds. Had I left it on the vine to mature, I am sure it would have gone over a hundred pounds, as most of the rest weighed in the high nineties.
That season we had other pumpkins and squash planted in the same field. They were no more than 200 feet away, but they were not composted, and we were in our early years on our new (second) farm, so the soil was not yet built up to high fertility. You could certainly tell the difference between the two pumpkin patches. The uncomposted plants were being attacked by squash bugs, aphids, and powdery mildew, while my pet plants were completely untouched. Not a single insect or disease bothered them until after the pumpkins were ripe and the leaf surface was no longer needed.
Some experts still say you can't grow immunity to insects in plants. I wonder if these experts ever grew a really healthy plant? Besides these pest-free pumpkins, I have completely rid pecan trees of heavy infestations of mealy bugs under the bark by mulching heavily with compost. I have reversed gummosis on peach tree trunks with compost--completely cleared the symptoms in one year--and peach trees that looked healthy but had wormy fruit were made to grow fruit without worms as long as I kept them mulched with compost.
Over the years I have seen many times that healthy plants have immunity to diseases and insects. There were times when a seemingly healthy plant was attacked by diseases and insects, but there were other factors involved. Either the plant wasn't adapted to the environment it was being grown in, or it was being attacked by a new virus or insect that was imported without its natural checks. Even though the plant being attacked looked healthy, it didn't have the genes that could give it protection from the foreign intruder.
There is always a cause for every problem. Most important, we shouldn't blame nature for the things we perceive as problems. Troublesome insects and diseases are nature's police force with a message telling us that we are in some way bending the rules. Although nature is very forgiving, if we keep using toxins to kill the police force and ignoring its messages, we get ourselves into more and bigger problems.
Incidentally, for a squash that seems to be resistant to squash bugs and squash vine borers, try tatume squash, available from Lone Star Seed Company in San Antonio.