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Those Pesky Bugs!
.... An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.......
There are countless varieties of insects. Many of these bugs, are harmful to pumpkin plants and fruit. In addition, insects are carriers of bacteria and fungus disease spores, transmitting them from plant to plant. Controlling these "bad boys" can save you troubles with plant disease down the road.
Many of us(this author included) prefer organic gardening nethods, and a minimal use of chemicals and sprays. After all, one of the reasons we garden, is to control the chemicals we are exposed to. However, sometimes you just have to apply chemicals. The backyard gardener who is growing just a few pumpkins, may opt not to use insect sprays. The risk is insects will destroy the plant prematurely, and the size of the fruit will not reach it's potential.
If you are in search of the behemoth pumpkin, spraying to control insects is unfortunately a must. If you do not spray, you risk a smaller pumpkin, or even worse consequences.
Here are some of the common insect and bug problems, and what you should do to avoid them:
Cucumber Beetle (and other beetles): This is the most common insect enemy to your vine crops. These pests can damage the leaves and transmit diseases which may prove fatal to the plant. Fortunately, most common pest controls are effective against this pest. Use the milder sprays and dusts early on. Apply stronger sprays such a Diazinon or Malathion for major infestation, and later in the season when a wide variety of bugs are out in full force. Then switch back to milder sprays and dusts in September as the season winds down and the bugs are no longer in abundance.
Snails and Slugs: These slimy little creatures of the night love to suck on the soft pumpkin fruit. They normally do not attack regular pumpkins. One of their favorite snacks, is a young giant pumpkin fruit before the skin begins to harden. They will eat holes deeply into the fruit, destroying it.
Fortunately, there is an easy and environmentally friendly ways to defend against snails and slugs. The easiest method is to put a layer of sand beneath and a few inches around the pumpkin fruit. These pests do not like to travel across sand. This effectively halts them from reaching the fruit. As the fruit grows, add more sand. Continue to provide a ring of protection until the skin shows signs of hardening.
Applying Snail and Slug Pellets is also very effective. They eat the pellets and die.
When going for the big one, I use both the bed of sand and the Snail and Slug pellets. I do not risk losing the prizewinner. I will apply the bait until the pumpkin skin has begun to harden(four to six weeks). After this point, snails and slugs will not bother the fruit.
Snails and slugs seldom bother regular pumpkins to any significant degree. Consequently, you do not need to use sand or Snail and Slug bait for regular pumpkins. Ditto for the smaller varieties like "Jack Be Little".
Vine Borers There is no more certain way to end your pumpkin growing season, than to have an infestation of vine borers. These little critters bore into pumpkin vines at or near the base, sucking on the juices and eating away the vine. Once inside, they progress up inside the vine, making it difficult to detect until great damage is already done.
If your fruit is growing well, and all of a sudden slows down, this may be the cause. After the damage is done the vine will shrivel and die. The presence of secondary roots may continue to produce a little more towards fruit weight, but effectively your season is over, if they eat through the vine. Some growers perform surgery, cutting into the vine, extracting the vine borer, then patching the entry wound. After, surgery, sprays are applied and the vine is covered with soil to promote secondary root growth. However, success is limited and significant damage is often done during surgery. Vine borers attack most members of the Cucurbita family- pumpkins, squash and cucumbers.
It is important to guard against an infestation before it happens. Spray your vines with a strong chemical such as Diazinion. read the label before yu buy. Make certain the spray is effective against Squash Vine Borers. Make sure to cover the vine thoroughly, especially near the base. Mix the spray according to the manufacturer's instruction. Don't forget to put the container out of reach of small children. Repeat applications as necessary and in accordance with the manufacturer's instruction.
Squash Bug Squash bugs are sucking insects that enjoy munching on your leaves and stems. They are easily controlled by regular applications of Sevin. Take a good look at your enemy, the Squash Bug
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