The squash plant family (Cucurbitaceae) includes many garden favorites- cucumber, summer and winter squash, pumpkin, muskmelon, and watermelon. Unfortunately, it’s a family vulnerable to some of the most consequential insect pest and disease problems. The names squash bug, cucumber beetle, squash vine borer, downy mildew, and bacterial wilt strike fear in a gardener’s heart. And those just represent the starting team. The legion of potential pest problems is sufficient to bring the toughest gardener to his knees sobbing in anguish.
But there’s hope for the human animals competing against insects, mites, and pathogens for these valued food resources. There are many ways to prevent and manage these problems and these are covered in detail on the HGIC website. Here are a few strategies that I think are less widely used. Give them a try in your pursuit of higher yields with fewer tears!
- Select disease resistant cultivars. Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online website has a matrix for each vegetable crop that lists all major diseases and cultivars with resistance claims. They even include seed companies that sell the seeds! Special note: ‘County Fair’ cucumber is resistant to bacterial wilt; butternut and ‘Tromboncino’ squash are fairly resistant to squash vine borer.
- Apply floating row covers when seedlings emerge or transplants go in. The material excludes all critters. Remove the cover when plants start to bloom.
- Plant around insect pests by planting healthy transplants as soon as conditions allow or waiting until mid-June to plant seeds. Plant pumpkin and winter squash from late June to July 4th.
- Keep planting. Cucumber and summer squash can be sown several times, 2-3 weeks apart.
- Scout your plants for signs and symptoms of problems and take action early!
Regardless of the pest issues, there’s a world of wildly diverse and interesting heirloom “cucurbits” waiting for the curious gardener. Last fall I wrote about ‘North Georgia Candy Roaster’, a winter squash that I stored and ate from October through mid-April.
I have seeds to share if you’d like to grow it this year. Send your name and mailing address to email@example.com and put “squash” in the subject line.
What’s your favorite heirloom squash, pumpkin, squash, melon, etc.?
By Jon Traunfeld, Director, Home and Garden Information Center