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I think permaculture insect control has failed me.

 
Scott Stiller
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I grow lots of squash and gourds. I have them planted far and wide in polycultures. No matter where they are squash bugs have found them. I have spent hours and hours picking them and their eggs off my plants and drowning them. I haven't even slowed them down. I haven't used any chemicals, insecticides or other in years. I continue to wait for some kind of predator bug to show up and even things out. It hasn't happened. Now I'm afraid that I will get very little yield because of my stubbornness to hang onto a way of thinking that clearly isn't working. As much as I hate to I will not wait long before using chemical control in the years to come. I'm sure some will tell me I'm wrong but it's a lot of work to get a little yield.
 
Aaron Festa
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Can you show a pic of your polyculture?  Also have you had a soil test done?  Soil imbalance or lack of soil nutrients could be the problem more than the lack of predatory insects.
 
John Weiland
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That sucks about what you are going through.  I will say that if were going to lose one of my high priority crops, I would probably use some sort of insecticidal control as a last-ditch measure, starting with whatever has the best documentation of being environmentally-benign. This would be complemented with continued removal of insects by water spray and/or by hand and the whole situation would be daily monitored to determine what the next course of action might be if the problem persisted.  One year, I did just let the potato beetles get ahead of me, did not spray nor pick off bugs:  TOTAL defoliation of the crop in a few weeks (....but did get to witness the increased resistance to the predation in red verus russet or gold potatoes).  There was just enough green vine left to push the crop through to poor yield of small potatoes.  Fortunately, we routinely overplant for our immediate needs, so even with heavy losses there is something to harvest.

Have you gathered some info of all stripes regarding squash bug control?  Is there much of a broad spectrum of items ranging from biological control to chemical?  Most curious to me was this statement: "I haven't used any chemicals, insecticides or other in years."   Has anything changed in your squash-growing approach between those years and this year that is associated with this immediate difference in squash bug pressure?
 
Scott Stiller
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This is just one of my areas. Amaranth, mustard greens, okra, marigolds, and pak Choi.
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Scott Stiller
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Aaron, I haven't done any soil test. I do plant winter pea everywhere I garden in the fall. In the spring I chop, drop and plant into it. So there has been no tilling or soil disturbance here in several years.
 
Scott Stiller
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John, the only thing that's changed is the amount of places I have squash plants planted. In the past few years I have planted in the same area without issue. This year I literally have it growing everywhere. No where is been immune to attack though.
I haven't done any research on control since I never expected to be considering it.
All of my regular beds are no till but I also plant on swales. Not sure what's going on but I thank you for your comment.
 
Aaron Festa
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Not sure what what work but maybe try dill, oregano, nasturtium in the mix.  Oregano when flowers attracts many thin waist wasps (I believe they're called).  A must have in any garden, imho, but it does spread.  But aside from that I would recommend a soil test just to cover your bases.  Living in CA I'm sure there is some university that does them.  UConn does soil test here any it only costs $8/sample.  Well worth the money. 
 
John Weiland
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Scott,

I will just add this link FWIW:   https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/viewhtml.php?id=138#altins

In the meantime, my own best guess is just that the stochastic nature of insect bust and boom got the better of your plantings this time.  Not to say that the suggestions and additional research might not yield new strategies to prevent this occurence in the future, but every now and then these enormous insect bursts occur that are hard to combat.  Hope there is something of use in the link and in the additional comments.
 
Aaron Festa
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One last thought/suggestion is to build some insect habitat (insect hotel) around the gardens for predatory insects.  Not sure who those predators would be or their specific habitat but YouTube or google could help with that.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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To me, "Permaculture insect control" means raising my own varieties. Store bought varieties don't seem like permaculture because they were imported from somewhere else. Heirlooms don't seem like permaculture, because they were developed for far away places and times. To my way of thinking, permaculture insect control can only be done on my own farm, by planting seeds of plants that were resistant to last year's insects. And that were resistant to the insects for many generations before that...

I would expect that varieties from The Corporation, which implicitly require crop protection chemicals, would fail when grown in a no -cides system.



 
Scott Stiller
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All the plants I grow are heirloom and have been saved from year to year here on my farm. I try to avoid growing any new varieties. Not sure what else to do.
 
Scott Stiller
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John, how can you say that heirlooms are not permaculture? Am I supposed to grow GMO's?
 
John Weiland
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@Scott S.: "John, how can you say that heirlooms are not permaculture?"

Scott, I think you were addressing Joseph with this comment.  But I'll just weigh in with an opinion as well. 

It sounds like you are doing what you can.  You're on the way, using heirloom seeds that you've been saving year after year and adapting them to your own location and growing conditions.  You've seen squash bugs before, just not like this.  And you're watching your crop disappear before your eyes....no doubt a recipe for despair.  But it's also a great opportunity to turn it towards your favor.  If you journal or take gardening notes, or even use posting here to record your progress, this is the year for documentation.  Take notes on when the bugs started appearing, which areas of your property seemed to be hit hardest, which varieties and locations were easiest to treat and/or remove bugs from, etc.  This latter item may seem silly, but the idea here is one of personal information for yourself regarding your operation in to the future.  If it turns out that one bed location will be near the house so you can monitor squash bugs more easily in future years, so be it.  This is also the time to notice the *rate* of decline of your vines due to the bugs, not just the fact that they are all equally infested with bugs.  Those that declined or were eaten at a slower rate are worth noting for possible reduced susceptiblity to insect feeding. These again are notes to take for future reference that may allow you to get *some* squash crop during years of bad insect pressure.  Observe, observe, observe when nature gives you that chance.

I realize each person will have differing amounts of land to devote to permaculture crop production.  Our garden is ~100 X 100 ft and we over-plant:  We still accept that some catastrophe might take out 100% of some item (corn or squash or beans, etc).  But typically, even in a bad year, we rarely get to a 90% loss of anything.....and build into our planting plan that we want the 10% that might remain to be 'enough' for any given year for that particular veggie.  During those bad years, one is automatically selecting seed (from survivors) for the ability to tolerate whatever it was that was decimating the crop....fungal/bacterial/viral disease, insects, nematodes, extreme drought, extreme waterlogging, etc.  What that means is that in a good year, we may not even get around to eating 80% of what we grow, and at this point are not involved in any farmer's/garden market (maybe in the future).  But it ends up being good insurance and the extra crop production either goes back into the soil, over the fence to the piggies, off to friends as gifts, or eventually to whatever scavenger in the garden wants to have at it.

I realize that's little solace this year as you watch the crop get clobbered, but use it to your advantage:  Lot's of plant breeders actually dream of such occasions to "test the metal" of the varieties they are producing, which in turn informs them of lines that need improvement.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I'm happy to explain why I think heirloom varieties are not compatible with permaculture... First a few definitions of what permaculture is. I'm taking these definitions from Wikipedia. It seems as authoritative as anyplace else.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture wrote:Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered on simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.


The pattern of highly inbred squash does not exist in any natural ecosystem. To develop a variety of squash that looks the same year after year, required lots of inbreeding. Then it required generation after generation of further inbreeding (up to 50 years worth) to qualify for the designation of heirloom. Therefore, it seems to me like any named heirloom variety that breeds true from generation to generation isn't properly used in a permaculture setting. Seems like that would similarly eliminate the use of modern Open Pollinated varieties, because they are also highly inbred.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture wrote:9-  Use small and slow solutions: Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and producing more sustainable outcomes.


Small solutions are things that can be done on my own farm. They include saving/replanting seeds from any squash that I am growing on my farm that is capable of withstanding the squash bugs and diseases. The large solution is ordering seeds from The Corporation, receiving them through a mega-mail system, in a pre-printed envelope. The large solution is planting an heirloom variety that has been grown in isolation from other squash for 50 generations. Keeping a variety of squash isolated from it's natural pattern of growth for 50 generations is a tremendously huge undertaking! And I think very prone to error.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture wrote:10- Use and value diversity: Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.


It seems to me, like the ability of squash to withstand new and evolving threats to it's well being is severely damaged when it is subjected to intense inbreeding, and maintained in a highly inbred state for 50 generations. Heirloom squash were developed, a long time ago, to thrive in a specific field with a specific set of pathogens and predators. Because they are highly inbred, they may get stuck in the past and may not have what it takes to succeed with modern pathogens and predators, and in different soils, weather patterns, and farming habits. On my own farm, I allow hundreds of varieties to promiscuously cross pollinate. I welcome the bugs and the survival-of-the-fittest selection that they bring with them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture wrote:11- Use edges and value the marginal: The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.


This may be an edge year for your squash. An opportunity to see what can handle the worst bug infestation in modern memory... Perhaps some marginal squash plant this year will provide the foundation for essentially bug-free squash in more normal years.

 
Dean Howard
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Sounds like you need some "other" Permaculture control...

Have you tried diatomaceous earth?  It's very earth, people, and pet friendly
Have you tried a drop of detergent in a spray bottle full of chopped onion, and water?
Do you have Neem Oil?  Compost Tea with tobacco spray?  I know there are many others...

I have the same worries that it may take years before the pests take care of themselves, but we have to get a yield until they do, right?
 
Scott Stiller
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Thank you John. I have been observing these creatures. The only plants that are not deterred are the ones I planted earlier than I thought I should. They were big enough not to be harmed badly by the onslaught. I read that tilling in the fall and early spring can expose them to predators and possibly disrupt their lifecycle. This is a real bummer for me because I pride myself in the fact that I no longer till. It seems they may be taking cover in the chop and drop that I plant into. Reminds me of The One Straw Revolution but with worse results. Regardless I've decided against the use of chemicals. I spent more time out today removing them and their eggs. Thank you for your comments.
 
Scott Stiller
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I get what you are saying Joseph. I've been doing permaculture for several years and never thought about things like that. When you allow things to cross are you able to get a good yeild by saving those seeds? That has never been my way of thinking but I'm open to new ideas. Thank you.
 
Scott Stiller
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Hello Dean. I did try some food grade DE once the scale of the onslaught was noticeable. I have not done anything else besides hand picking. I also read that cedar tea works. Put a handful of cedar chips in boiling water and let steep. One cooled strain and spray. I'll be trying some of your suggestions for sure. Thank you.
 
Matu Collins
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I had a few years of great squash yields and then two years ago a neighboring farmer  (chemical/fossil fuel based) grew acres of squash. There were so many squash bugs that I got almost crop.  It was just as you describe.

I think sometimes crop failure is part of a permaculture system.   I filed my squash experience under "accept feedback"
 
Scott Stiller
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Have you been able to grow squash since Matu?
 
Matu Collins
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I have been hesitant to invest much in squash since that year, which is a pity because it was a staple. I grew only volunteer gourds last year and this year again. It's not susceptible to the bugs but also not delicious. Not susceptible to soup.
 
Tyler Ludens
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All my squash were killed by squash bugs this year.  I planted an heirloom variety which had done well last year, and some old seeds of varieties which had never done very well.  I should have just thrown those old seeds away because those plants had no vigor.  All the plants were damaged to some extent by hail and flooding, further weakening them.  Then the squash bugs took over.  I subscribe to the theory that pests mostly attack plants which are stressed, and don't tend to attack healthy plants.  None of the squash I was growing were truly healthy.  Down here we still might have enough time to get a squash crop if we don't get early frosts, so today I'm going to try replanting with a variety which I saved seeds from for a few years, and some from a variety I saved seeds from last year, and see if these homegrown seeds produce healthier plants than "storebought" seeds.
 
Casie Becker
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Squash bugs or Squash vine borers? I have yet to see any of what I think people mean by squash bugs, but always fight with squash vine borers. I think the squash bugs look something like green lady bugs while I know the vine borer moth looks like a particularly large fat red wasp.

This year the borers ignored my tatume. It is still growing nicely, though not producing in the heat. If it starts producing again in the fall, I'm going to save more seed for next year. Right now there's just one tatume pumpkin sitting on the mantle.

The seminole pumpkin was able to mature the four pumpkins that set, before the borers killed it. I still have living sections of seminole vine where they rooted past the damage. I'm waiting to see if it will do anything in fall. I'm definitely saving seed from these also. The pumpkin we've used so far was delicious raw (almost tasted like melon) and made a fantastic pumpkin bread.

 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Scott,
I feel your pain! I've had the same kind of year so far. I was able to control the squash bugs early on (hand picking bugs and smashing eggs) but if you miss a day of searching they get out of control quickly. Also as more leaves come on the plant it gets harder to spy them. And they hide from you by moving to the opposite side of the plant. I've sprayed with garlic/cayenne/soap mixture and also with neem. They laughed at it. I've pulled up several plants and put in a few more, so far only one of those (6?) has bug issues, which is the familiar hole with mushy "sawdust" at the base where a borer has entered. I guess the majority of the population is happy where they've made their homes on the older plants.
I went out a few minutes ago to gather some of my little "friends" and have them smile for the camera. Here are squash bug, squash bug eggs (they love putting the eggs in the tight, hard to get at places) and a vine borer. Hope this helps you Casie (and others) identify these pests.
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The enemy
 
Tyler Ludens
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I definitely  had squash bugs.

 
Casie Becker
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Actually, I do recognize the squash bug. I've only seen a few, but thought they were stink bugs, which I also squish. Guess that's why they don't stink as much as I was expecting.
 
Tyler Ludens
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In parts of Texas we have a similar-looking bug which drinks the blood of birds and mammals and can transmit a deadly disease.  Unfortunately we have them here at our place and have actually been bitten by them.

http://kissingbug.tamu.edu/faq/
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Scott: All the winter squash I grow are crossed up. I would never consider maintaining a pure variety.

Maxima squash.


Moschata squash:


Zucchini summer squash:


I sure love growing squash. I plant about 1000 row-feet per year.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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The squash bugs do look like stinkbugs, only a bit longer. We've got brown stinkbugs and green stinkbugs. I used to think that the green ones were immature brown ones but have only recently learned they're two different kinds. Sooo glad we don't have kissing bugs! But very grateful that we have spiders.
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Spider eating green stinkbug
 
Scott Stiller
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I'm really sorry to hear so many folks have had issues with them this year. What I'm not sorry about is this incredible learning experience! This thread is great for me. So you guys are saying I should let me veggies cross? My understanding has been that saved seeds from a hybrid veggie either wouldn't produce or produce an undesirable yield. Have I been wrong all these years? Starting to look that way.
Not only squash bugs but borers, and squash lady beetles have been an issue. My pumpkins, and zucchini were really hit. Butternut squash and two others have not been. I'm posting a pic of those two others because I have no idea what they are. They were given to me mixed up in a sandwich bag.
Thank you guys and I look forward to more guidance.
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John Weiland
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@Scott S: " So you guys are saying I should let me veggies cross? "

HA!!....I'll let Joseph handle that one.  We are pretty naive and timid about making 'wide' crosses between different squashes....just don't have Joseph's bravado!     But certainly if you have a zucc in bed A that is surviving and zucc in bed B, then you may wish to try to either hand-pollinate or use some other method to get the two survivors to cross with each other.  Again, I defer to Joseph's depth and experience on the different types of squash and what might be expected to come out the other end.

"My pumpkins, and zucchini were really hit. Butternut squash and two others have not been."  -- exactly the kind of noticing that pays dividends down the road in a home garden operation.  It's a ways til the end of the season, so keep making observations.  I'm still crossing my fingers as we have not seen a single potato beetle on our potato vines;---and we are smack in the middle of a large-scale potato production region, so some things remain a mystery.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Scott: Those squash look to me like they might be lagenaria squash. A summer squash if eaten when young so that the skin is still tender. A characteristic of lagenaria squash is that they have a white flower that opens at night.

I wouldn't presume to tell other people what they should do in their gardens. The first thing that I do when I start growing a new species, is plant a number of varieties, and encourage as much promiscuity as the species is capable of. Then I select among the grandchildren and later generations for those that thrive on my farm. I suppose on average across species that about 75% of commercial and heirloom varieties that I plant self-eliminate by failing to produce seeds for me. My experience is that the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree. If two great squash cross, then their offspring tend to be great. Many times even better than their parents. One of my all-time favorite squash crosses is the F1 between Hubbard and Banana. Better tasting than either parent. Easier to handle than the Hubbard. Vigorous as can be. We've been selectively growing squash for thousands of years now. The modern varieties are well behaved. They aren't going to turn into chupacabras. A hybrid squash tends to take on traits mid-way between those of it's parents.

If The Corporation can scare us into thinking that crossed up seed will create dangerous Franken-Squash, then they sell more seeds. If The Seed Clergy can convince us that seed purity is critical, then they collect more tithes and offerings from seed sales.

Lagenaria squash flower:


I think this photo shows an inter-species hybrid between mixta and moschata squash. Traits ended up mid-way between those of the parent species.


The last two photo are the children, and the grandchildren of a cross between Hubbard and Banana squash. The first generation is a blending of the traits between the two. The second generation has a lot of squash that resemble one grandparent or the other, but with traits swapped between them.




squash-parents.jpg
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Cross between a banana and a hubbard squash.
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Grandchildren of the cross.
 
Scott Stiller
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Fascinating for sure! I'll sure give your method a try. This is all new to me since I've been an heirloom purist for years.
I won't be growing any of the varieties that succumb to this years attack for awhile. I will give the ones that have survived a go but in a different location. This will free up some room to try new vegetables I've been wanting to grow. If any of you have more thoughts please send them along.
PS these squash do have white flowers. I'll see what they look like after dark.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Scott Stiller wrote:PS these squash do have white flowers. I'll see what they look like after dark.


After dark, under short-wave UV lighting...
 
John Weiland
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@Scott S. :"I won't be growing any of the varieties that succumb to this years attack for awhile."

But it might be interesting to save seed from whatever is getting munched heavily right now and yet survives just enough to produce some fruit and seed.  Planting a few of these next year would be worth an observation of feeding if the bugs are present.
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Terri Matthews
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I have NEVER beaten the squash bug: the best I have done is to keep the numbers reduced until after harvest. The PROBLEM seems to be that as fast as I can kill them, more fly in.

So I will read this thread with interest!

Oh, yes. About raising the offspring of hybrid seeds: I have been letting the volunteers grow and I have never been disappointed. With one exception, every vegetable has been excellent! Mind, they are not always exactly like the parent plant, but they have always been tasty.

As for the one plant that did badly, it was sweet corn. I think it had the "terminator" gene, as it did not bear. You can blame the seed companies for the terminator gene, as they developed it and they deliberately put it in the corn so that nobody could save seed from their corn and get a second crop.
 
Scott Stiller
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You are right John. I will save some seeds and replant. I do fear the worst though. I will post my results on this thread.
Thanks for the words on hybrid squash Terri. I'm really looking forward to letting things go as they please instead of keeping like plants far away.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Terri Matthews wrote:I have NEVER beaten the squash bug: the best I have done is to keep the numbers reduced until after harvest.


If you are harvesting the squash, then I don't see what's the problem. That seems kinda like me saying, I have NEVER beaten the fall frosts: The best I have done is to harvest before freezing weather arrives.
 
Shawn Harper
Posts: 360
Location: Portlandia, Oregon
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I am curious if anyone who does the three sisters has squash bug problems?
 
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