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Quash The Squash Bugs And Cucumber Beetles

A yellow and black striped beetle sits on a bright yellow cucumber blossom in a garden.
The striped cucumber beetle can do a number on your veggie garden. Learn simple, organic ways to combat these and squash bugs.

Right about now, the zucchini squash and cucumber plants that you planted in your gardens and raised beds this spring are really taking off. Lurking underneath the leaves, however, you may find some pests that could thwart your bountiful zuke and cuke harvest.

Squash bugs and cucumber beetles are two of the hardest insects to combat in vegetable gardens.

Knowing about the life cycles and the kind of damage to look out for, with some simple organic controls, you can control these pests and still have enough cucumbers and zucchini to leave on your neighbors’ doorsteps.

Cucumber beetles are yellow and black in color, and have spotted or striped patterns on their small, elongated bodies. They emerge almost as soon as your cucumbers come out of the ground or when you transplant them.

Cucumber beetles can actually kill a young plant if they aren't controlled and they will continue feeding even if your plant survives.

The cucumber beetle feeds on the flowers which can impact pollination. Plus, they will eat the cucumbers, too! These beetles can also spread bacterial wilt disease.

One technique is to use yellow sticky cards and hang them above your cucumber or melon plants. It won't get rid of all the cucumber beetles but some will get stuck on the cards and that will help reduce the population.

Another method is to sprinkle diatomaceous earth on your plants. That is a powdery substance which cucumber beetles don't like. They tend to avoid the plants that has this powder on it.

A third technique is to garden differently, right from the start! Trying straw bale gardening - that's when you plant the cucumbers directly into straw bales - can reduce beetle issues almost entirely. When the plants are off the ground, the beetles have a harder time finding them.

Squash bugs have very similar life cycles and hide out in weeds. These critters lay eggs this time of year and you might find those eggs on summer squash, zucchini, winter squash and pumpkins underneath the leaves.

The bugs' copper-colored eggs are all in a cluster between the veins of the squash leaves. Once you locate them, just cut them out or squish them. This will help reduce the population and the damage they can cause.

Q: I am positive that my garlic is infested with allium leaf miners. I can see the damage done to the leaves by their burrowing. I'm guessing they over-wintered in the soil and are now feasting on this year's crop. Is the only solution to pull all my plants and not plant garlic again for a year or more? — Jenn, in Northfield

The issue here is probably more likely to be the leek moth. Leek moths lay eggs in the center of the garlic plants and those eggs hatch into caterpillars that devour the plant's center.

The leek moth is a relatively new pest in Vermont and in the northeast and can be devastating to garlic to alliums, like onions, shallots and leeks.

To prevent the moth from laying eggs in the first place, you can cover plantings with a floating row cover or a micro mesh cover.

If you already have leek moths, you can use a spray like BT or bacillus thuringiensis and get rid of them. These options should help ensure you still get a good garlic harvest.

Q: We planted tomatoes and basil where we always have had great success with a fabric soil covering and straw mulch on top. All but one basil plant has died and the tomatoes are going in the same direction. If we remove the straw, can we replant in that soil this year? — Ginger, in Plainfield

You can definitely replant! It's still early enough in the season, go ahead and plant more basil and try to aerate that straw area so you have better airflow and therefore less chance of mold.

Next episode, we'll talk about animals in your gardens and raised beds so please send along your questions.

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All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

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Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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