Potato and Squash Bugs

Ahhh….the joys of organic vegetable gardening.  Each year, it seems, I battle different bugs to try to grow food in sufficient quantities to feed my family.  This year, growing potatoes for the first time in several years, I was very pleased with their initial growth.  If the greenery above ground was any indication of how many potatoes they were growing beneath the surface, I felt sure I’d have a great crop of lovely Yukon Gold potatoes.  So imagine my dismay to go out and check on them a couple of days ago and find the foliage suffering.  I didn’t have to look far to find the reason: potato bugs.  Big and orange and not even trying to hide.  I fetched a container and started gathering.  From large to small, I gathered around 500 of the buggers on that first sweep.  Since then I’ve been sweeping twice a day and while I’m pleased to say that the number I find each time has decreased to about 50, it goes to show how infested the plants were that I am still finding that many each time.  I’m hopeful that having reduced their numbers so dramatically, the plants will recover and continue to grow nice, fat potatoes under the surface.  I will need to continue to sweep daily from now until harvest though, I fear.

One row over from the potatoes lie my zucchini.  I planted three varieties this year: a hybrid, a heritage Baby Round and a heritage Black Beauty.  The same day I discovered the potato bugs, I noticed that my first zucchini were ready to be harvested.  I was surprised to see that the two heritage plants looked healthy and had the best zucchini on them, because it was the hybrid that initially grew the fastest.  Looking closer, I found the reason: squash bugs.  I haven’t grown zucchini in about 15 years and had never encountered this terror before, though I’ve heard about them from others who have.  After doing some research on best management tactics, I went out last night armed with an old peanut butter jar full of water, and spent an hour or more laboriously examining every single leaf on the two healthy plants.  Clusters of eggs are – fortunately – clearly visible but the adhesive used to stick them to the leaf doesn’t allow them to be removed when dry without tearing the leaf.  However drop a little water on them, and the water-soluble adhesive softens and they can then be scraped off without damage to the leaf.  Each cluster contains 20-30 eggs and some leaves had more than one cluster (though others had none).  By the end, I felt pretty confident I didn’t miss any and was pleased to have eliminated a large number of potential new squash bugs.  While egg hunting, I also picked up every squash bug I could find (not easy as they camouflage well into the mulch) and drowned them in the same water as the eggs.  Last, I pulled the sickly hybrid zucchini.  It had tried to set a number of fruit before being attacked, all of which were dying on the plant.  Each leaf had multiple clusters, both topside and underneath, and on that plant there were even clusters of eggs on the stems and the flowers!  There were way too many to try to remove so I decided instead to treat that plant as a trap plant, hoping that by removing what was clearly an infestation, I won’t run the risk of those bugs migrating to the healthier heritage plants after completely destroying the hybrid.

Once again, I will have to religiously check the two remaining plants for new bugs and egg clusters but am hopeful I’ve addressed this problem in time.  According to my research, squash bug eggs take two weeks to hatch, so by re-examining the leaves every few days, I should be able to prevent any of them surviving long enough to hatch.