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I would like to grow winter squash, but.....?

 
gardener
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Hello everyone,

So in my pre Permies days I used to try growing winter squash, but only with great difficulty.  Even in my pre-Permies days I was skittish about using any pesticides, and by now I am especially pleased I basically boycotted them from the beginning (I tried neem and insecticidal soap, but with limited success).  However, I did have real troubles with winter squash and I would like to try again with maybe some help from here.

So the basic problems I had boiled down to two causes that I never resolved.  I tried growing both pumpkins and butternut & acorn squash.  The pumpkins grew a nice vine, and several flowers eventually grew little pumpkins (perhaps 1 pound of an expected 25) before they succumbed to squash bugs.  The other squashes never even fruited before wilting away thanks to (I think) powdery mildew.  Eventually all the winter squash plants turned yellow and died young.

I spoke to a neighbor who grows winter squash.  He told me he uses a special seed that comes pre-treated with an insecticide and fungicide and that he plants using rubber gloves because he does not want to even touch the seed itself.  Needless to say I am not going that route!  He further told me that was the only way to successfully grow winter squash in the area.

As I said before, I would like to try again, and have been told that using organic methods will make for a healthier plant resistant to disease and predators.  Is this true, and if so, how do I do this.  I am growing in active mushroom compost and my summer squash is healthier than ever.  I really hope this translates into healthy winter squash but would love to know what I need to do.

Thanks in advance,

Eric
 
pioneer
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If it were me, I would plant as many type of maxima squash as I could find, because that's the kind I like to eat.  I would plant as many seeds as I had room for, a couple hundred or more hopefully from every variety I could find.  Then I would save seed from the fifty or so best ones, and I would plant as many of those seeds as I could the following year, and so on.  Once I had big, healthy plants that produced nice squash, I would start keeping seeds from only the ones I liked the taste of the most.

I personally wouldn't believe anyone that tells me the only way to do anything is ___________, especially if the answer is using poison to do it.  Generally speaking, when people speak in absolutes, like "the only way to do _______ here is ________", I assume they are too close-minded for me to learn much from them.  I can't think of an instance where there is only one absolute, correct way to do anything when it comes to plants.
 
pollinator
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I'm in a totally different situation than you. Around here winter squash tries to take over the world while everything else moans and collapses.

Anyway, a few tricks. Find out when squash bugs are most active in your area, and plant your squash after that. The adults can fly, but they will usually stick with one plant until the plant dies. They'll continue laying eggs all summer. Plant in full sun, on dirt mounds if your soil is wet (squash don't like a lot of water) or in pits if it's dry. Plant a trap crop. Early in the season plant something they really like to draw in all the adults and when it's all infested, burn it. More than one if necessary.

The adult squash bugs overwinter in the ground, and they also hide in the ground during the day when it's hot. Get out an old food container, turn on the hose, and catch them as they scurry away from the flood. Throw away or otherwise destroy those you catch. Plant in areas where you didn't plant squash the previous two years.

Butternut and acorn squash are climbers. Powdery mildew will strike hardest where it's close, so plant them a distance apart and give them something to climb on. The foliage shouldn't be too thick--trim if necessary.

Whatever you're doing, switch it around. Use new ideas, new places, new ways or times of planting. Fiddle until you find what works.
 
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Squash bugs and powdery mildew are the perpetual bugaboos of the organic gardener who wants to grow squash, winter or summer (although sometimes you can get a fast crop of zukes in before the plants succumb).  And if you haven't met Mr. Squash Vine Borer yet, he's fun too!  (A white grub that gets inside your stems and kills your plants that way.)  

You will be offered a wide variety of semi-non-less-toxic ideas for stuff to spray on your plants.  You will be offered suggestions about soil health that might, perhaps, retard or inhibit the mildew.  But none of these are, in my opinion, satisfactory or sufficient solutions.  The permaculture path to squash victory is, in my opinion, the slow multiseason path of finding, selecting, and if necessary land-race-breeding varieties of squash that can tolerate the pests in your garden and are not susceptible to mildew under your climate conditions.   My best luck so far has been with tatume squashes, which are both a summer squash when picked and eaten young as well as a long-storing winter squash that have a lot in common with spaghetti squash.  They seem immune to borers, not particularly interesting to squash bugs, and able to outgrow mildew in my garden.   But there are other varieties out there with one or another of these qualities.

Squash bugs, too, are like any other garden pest.  If your garden is a perfect clean box of vegetable plants and bare soil or raked mulch, they will eat you alive.  But in a permaculture garden where your annual beds and containers are all mixed in with your perennials, your water features, your amphibian habitat, your bird baths, your pile of junk where the snakes live, the old weeds from last year with the seed heads full of spiders, flights of dragonflies zooming through, and ... you get the idea.  If there's a complicated ecosystem going on in the vicinity of your squashes, the squash bugs don't get a chance to just sit there on your plants exploding in geometric progression of undisturbed generations until your entire crop is gone.  I can't say what eats them, exactly; they aren't popular prey.  But something seems to.

Good luck!
 
steward
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I recommend attending your local "producers only" farmer's market, and buy squash fruits from an organic farmer. That will at least get you seed from plants that have grown at least one season in your area. Then grow seeds from it, and start saving and replanting seeds from anything that survives. In 3 years or so I expect them to be doing great for you.

Moschata (the butternuts) have a reputation of being the most resistant to squash vine borers, and to Anasa squash bugs. I'd recommend starting with them.

You might also try some of the less common species of squash: ficifolia, lagenaria, luffa.
 
gardener
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I second kola lofthouse,  My mildew problems were taken care of by planting with greater distance between plants, the air circulation seems to have stopped the problem.

We now plant zucchini just for the squash bugs, then we sprinkle them with DE and we are now going to see about getting a shop vac to suck them up since another member here mentioned that trick.
Soapy water will drown them if you can pick them and toss them in the bucket as you go along.
In the end, for us it will be a combination of methods that gets us better control.

*we have a large number of predatory insects but apparently the squash bug is disgusting to them all, not even the praying mantis will go after them.
It might be time to get some parasitic flies living with us.

Redhawk
 
Eric Hanson
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Ok, lots of great advice here.  For what it’s worth, I can grow summer squash with no problems whatsoever.  I get no bugs, mildew, or pests of any kind.  For whatever reason the nasties only seem to be attracted to the winter varieties, even when they grow side by side.

I will try planting winter squash surrounded by something more repulsive to the bugs and plant them far enough apart that they get better airflow.

In the past I have grown eggplant and they seemed to attract every possible pest from miles around.  Perhaps I could plant these as a sacrificial crop and burn them once they get infected—sort of a bait for a trap?

Thanks and if my plans are wholly off, please let me know.

Eric
 
Lauren Ritz
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Sounds like you have a variety of summer squash that's resistant to the mildew, etc. My guess is that if you didn't plant ANY winter squash the bugs would attack your summer squash, but for the moment they go after the one they like better. As you start to plant your own seeds from your own winter squash, you'll probably notice specific plants that aren't infested, or only minimally. Always keep seeds from the plants that aren't bothered by the local pests. If you only get one mature squash, on a plant that's infested with bores and dies of some mystery blight, keep the seeds! That's one generation that grew in your garden long enough to get seeds off of it. Plant those seeds next year, and again keep seeds. Chances are good that the 2nd generation will have a higher survival rate, and the third generation even higher.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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A Summer Zucchini Squash is only  2 to 3 weeks away from becoming a Winter Marrow Squash.
 
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I had so much trouble every year with squash bugs but since I've started planting marigolds around my squash area I haven't had a problem!
 
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I'm also having a great with the squash bugs and squash vine borers. They managed to take down all the squash I planted and some of the early volunteers, to include my butternut squash.

Over the weekend I successfully saved a volunteer mystery summer squash that came up later than all the others from a vine borer through surgery. Today, though, I was out and I noticed they're absolutely enamored by some of the sunflowers I have blooming out there... I'm not sure why; a Google search didn't give me much.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Just for others information, I think I have discovered a way to solve the squash bug problem by using a three step approach.
Be aware that it doesn't keep your current plants alive but it will allow you to get rid of the squash bugs for at least one growing season.

I pulled our dying zucchini plants while using an 8 gal wet/dry vacuum that I had added 2 gal. of water, 1.tsp dish soap and 1 gal. vinegar to, this way the bugs would fall into the liquid and drown and if that didn't do it, the vinegar would start the dissolving process.
I vacuumed up all the bugs I could see and I then went after the surrounding soil (mulch) as I had seen some of them retreating to their night time hideout.
Once I had all the bugs I could see sucked up, I pulled the plants up by the roots and sucked up the escapees that had gone into under ground hiding.
Next I raked up all the thick mulch (rotting straw from last years bale gardens) and bagged it, bugs and all, I tied these bags shut twice and hauled them off the property to dispose of them.
The next step was to spray the soil in and around that area with soapy water (5 drops of dawn per gal. of water) and as I did that, I had my trusty shop vac at the ready to suck up any bugs that might come up for air. ( I saturated the soil with the spray fairly well)
So far (1 week after the treatment) we have not found any more squash bugs on any of our remaining garden areas.

Redhawk
 
pollinator
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^that is intense Dr Redhawk!

I got almost no squash last year, 80% from bugs, 20% borers. This year I went to a layered approach. So far we already have more squash than last year's total.

Step 1 was- as mentioned- plant a lot. I get seeds from Southern Exposure, which is within about 80 miles of my house. They generally get the seeds from organic small growers. I started with 9 different moschata varieties and 4 pepo. I LOVE Joseph's idea about buying some at a farmers market. That is awesome! You get to try it and free seeds- perfect. But I didn't do that last year. This winter I will do so. I have no joke about 200 plants in all sorts of areas. Next year hopefully I can further refine.

Step 2 was to plant a few sacrificial plants. They love maximas (both borers and bugs) and I started a few hubbards early and those went on the ends of the rows. I put down some boards near them, they are supposed to go under them, but I mostly find them under the vine near the base. Still, as they are coming out of the woods, they tend to congregate on those plants. Probably 80% of the egg masses the first month were on the edges.

Step 3 has been to go out when the sun is blazing hot at least a couple times a week and kill the bastards. They like to lay eggs in the hot weather, it seems to harden the eggs quickly and protect them. I probably kill 10-20 each time I go out. Early in the morning is better to remove egg masses, as the leaves are out and you can bend over and see under most of them very quickly. I rub some dirt on my fingers as an abrasive and the eggs rub right off.

Step 4 as some egg masses have survived and the nymphs are showing up has been to remove the dead leaves they hide under. I'm not sure this is good, the spiders do seem to control the little guys, and any leaf with a spider under it seems to be nymph free, but it's what I doing this year. Input would be welcome.

Step 5 is coming up- when the pepo plants are losing vigor, they get pulled. Otherwise they are a nursery for the bugs, and last year they moved from there to the melons and tomatos.

Step 6 as Dr Redhawk and others mentioned is to make better predator habitat. I've seen assassin bugs this year after last year's mess. I've seen bigger spiders, including black widows (I don't kill them, just watch my hand placement). There have been two praying mantis juveniles. I have made several pocket ponds, and have lots of toads and snakes.

Step 7- improve next year. Pick the most resistant and do it all again. I like the wood chips for this- yes the bugs have lots of hidey holes, but I have a bunch of big black predatory beetles. I get the occasional bug, but it's pressure at this point not devastation. I'm OK with that. I did two tests with compost tea versus just the same ingredients (not including compost) sprayed on the patch, and I will have some idea how that works pretty soon. Lots of little experiments every year.
 
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I have been looking to see if anyone else has posted, but I have found a great trap crop to keep the squash bugs (not borers) occupied. This crop also attracts assassin bugs, which work to kill the squash bugs.

I noticed this completely by accident, but Goji Berry plants just seem to work wonders. I honestly don't find goji berries palatable, so this works out great to attract birds too, which are attracted by the berries but also eat more pests.


I think a hedge of goji berries could be a great permaculture fence to deter deer as well.
 
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