How to Defeat the Squash Vine Borer

by Tiffany in Gardening

How to Get Rid of the Squash Vine BorerI have been gardening for years and I have dealt with a variety of pests and bugs. I have grown pumpkins for many years and never really had a problem with anything munching on them. Then we moved to our new homestead and I started a new garden in a totally new space. Let’s just say that my first year in our new space has been a real challenge. It has left me wanting to pull out my hair.

We had slugs eating our beans and hosta. We had caterpillars eating our cabbage. We had deer eating our tomatoes. We had aphids eating our roses. We had rust disease on our apple trees. We also had squash vine borers eating our squash plants…pumpkins, zucchini, and yellow squash. It was a complete nightmare at times but I did manage to make progress on most of these fronts and next year I am armed and ready. Pests beware!

This post though talks about the infamous squash vine borer. When your squash plants start to wilt and yellow a bit many times you assume they need more water. Except more water doesn’t help. So you take a closer look and you see a sawdust frass around the vines at the base of the plant. It looks as though something is chewing them up and spitting them out. And truth be told something is. The squash vine borer is a moth that lays eggs around the stems of squash plants. Caterpillars emerge and eat into the stalk  and with enough feeding damage to the stem, the entire plant can die. The damage they can do is astounding!


How to Get Rid of the Squash Vine Borer

You need to start with some prevention in the early spring. Most of us buy starts or transplant starts that we grow indoors. You can wrap the stems of your squash seedlings with medical gauze. It is flexible enough to grow with plants but prevents caterpillars from eating into the stems.

Spray your plants with BTK (Bacillus Thuricide). It is a beneficial bacteria that controls the larva stage (caterpillars) of certain moths. It will not harm beneficial insects. I also use it on cabbage and plants in the brassica family who are attacked by moths/caterpillars. You can also spray with Dr. Bronner’s soap. Re-spray both after rain. Wipe down the vines, stems, leaves with a damp cloth to remove bugs and eggs once or twice a week. After spraying dust them with Diatomaceous Earth and create a ring around the plants to create a barrier.

You may want to cover your squash plants right up until they flower with a row cover, a cage, or some kind of gauzy netting that will not give moths access to the plants. Once they flower you will need to remove these impediments so the pollinators can visit.

Lay out yellow bowls full of water. The borer moths are attracted to the yellow and will drown themselves. It kills off some of them and also lets you know they are in the area. Once you spot them you will want to start digging lightly in the soil looking for them in the pupil stage. Kill them on site or give them to your chickens/quail.

Prevention is going to do more than going into attack mode AFTER they have become a problem and your squash plants are dying. Arm yourselves now for next year!

Top image credit: Jim, the Photographer


Are You Peeing on Your Compost?

by Tiffany in Gardening

Peeing on Your CompostSay what? Peeing on your compost? Yes, you read it right. It might seem like a slightly unorthodox gardening practice but it could be your own personal contribution to the green cause because compost can be greatly improved by the addition of human urine. Gardeners always want to improve their compost and their garden soil right? Yes!

If you pee on your compost, it has a double environmental whammy. It speeds up its decomposition so you can get it on the garden more quickly, and it also saves water because you don’t have to be flushing nearly as much. Urine contains potash and nitrogen, and these make it a rich fertilizer. It has an NPK ratio of about 11-1-2. And to add to its richness, urine contains urea, which helps to speed chemical reactions involved in breaking down organic material. So, for the health of your garden you may want to pee on your compost heaps. Don’t flush a free, naturally-created nitrogen product down the toilet.

For straw bale gardening urine is a wonderful conditioner because of the nitrogen. It helps the bales start to break down in the weeks before planting, it is free, and it much more natural than the commercial nitrogen products. We have used straw bales and urine on our own homestead with great success.

If you are concerned with hormonal or pharma byproducts in your urine you don’t have to be. Compost gets hot enough ideally to burn off anything potentially harmful. I recommend the book Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants to find out more about this practice. You also can’t use all your pee on the compost because this would make it entirely too wet and a balance has to be achieved. If you plan to add urine directly to active garden beds or container plants you will also want to dilute it.

All us green folks want to recycle right? Well, look into pee-cycling too for a better garden.

liquid gold


How to Use Plants and More to Repel Mosquitoes

by Tiffany in Gardening

Use Plants to Repel MosquitoesIt is the worst when pesky mosquitoes keep you from enjoying the outdoors, especially your own backyard. Some of us with harsh winters don’t want to let even one summer night go to waste, so what can be done to keep those blood suckers away??

Well, your garden can actually be used as mosquito control headquarters if you plant strategically!

Just be aware that none of the plants I am going to mention can keep mosquitos simply by growing them in a garden or inside a container. I think many people misunderstand and think that all you have to do is grow certain plants and the mosquitos will smell them and stay away from the area. This is simply not true.

You need to grow the plants and then USE the plants. They contain great natural mosquito repellents that you have to apply personally. The mosquito repelling plants only work if you strip off the leaves, crush them up, and rub them on your exposed skin. When you use these plants in this way they work just as well as any chemical based repellent you will find in stores. Even better, if you grow these repellent plants then they are always available when you are outside working in the yard or just relaxing on your patio.

Plants to Repel Mosquitoes

Lemon Balm – This is a great mosquito repelling plant because it produces large leaves fairly quickly. Because it so easy to grow and it is actually on the invasive side (like mint), you may want to plant it in raised beds or large containers.

Lemon Thyme  – This lemony scented planted is one of the absolute best mosquito repellents you could ever grow. The caveat is that it is small plant with tiny leaves so you have to grow a lot of it to last a family through mosquito season. However it is a trailing plant perfect for large containers and hanging baskets.

Catnip – Another great plant that can be used to keep those skeeters away but I have never been tempted to grow this one because I don’t want cats in my yard.

Before you crush up some leaves and rub them all over your body or that of your kids do a patch test first to determine how your skin will react. Rub the leaves on the skin of one forearm only and give it some time. Just because something is natural does not mean is always 100% safe for you personally. The are potent plant oils we are dealing with. Also don’t assume that because many of the repellent plants are lemon scented means you can just go ahead and use lemon or lime leaves. These plants have been known to cause serious skin reactions, especially if you are in the sun.

Other Ways to Keep Mosquitoes Away

A fan – If you are enjoying some time outside on your patio or laying on a deck or lawn chair then set up a fan to circulate air around you. Mosquitoes cannot fly very well so a strong breeze will keep them away.

Standing water – Don’t allow standing water to pool around your house. Clean gutters of debris often and make sure rain barrels are secure and cannot become mosquito breeding houses.

BTI – Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis is bacteria used to control larvae stages of certain species. You can use dunks or granules in areas where there is water around your home to decimate the mosquito population. It is a natural biological control and it will NOT harm bees, birds, frogs, toads, pets or people. It only affects mosquitos and certain flies.

Attract Birds – If you want fewer mosquitoes then you may want to attract more predators that eat them. Bird houses for nesting, bird feeders, and bird baths with fresh water will usually mean more birds and fewer pesky mosquitos.

The mosquitoes may invade your yard and make it a less likely for you to enjoy your time outdoors but you can turn the tables and use it as command central to combat these blood suckers and get back to enjoying every lazy summer evening you have. Good luck!


Get Rid of Slugs in Your Garden Naturally

by Tiffany in Gardening

Get Rid of Slugs in Your Garden NaturallyFor the first time in my gardening career I am facing a slug invasion. Slugs can be a problem when it comes to plants and vegetables. Many gardeners have been reduced to near tears after seeing the fruits of their labor eaten by slugs. If you’re gardening organically this makes the task of getting rid of slugs that much harder.

This is my first year gardening at our new homestead so it would appear that slugs may be a problem in our new location but so far I am having success keeping them under control. Well, that is after they destroyed pretty much all of my green bean plants. Lesson learned. I am encouraged that if I stay on top of the issue they won’t cause me to much angst.

There are some things you can do to get rid of slugs from your garden…

Here’s how:

Build a barrier – If your vegetables and fruit are planted in raised beds this is quite easy. Simply attach a barrier that the slugs won’t cross and get into the border. The best material to use is a strip of copper all around the sides of your borders. Slugs don’t like copper and so it will be difficult for them to enter.

Make it bumpy – Slugs don’t like bumpy or rough textures as it is difficult for them to crawl on it. Add crushed egg shells or spiky rocks and pebbles around your vegetables to make this task difficult. Mulch is not good as slugs are attracted to rotten decomposing material. It is the same with straw, they are thriving in my straw bale garden but I can add rocks and eggshells around the individual plants.

Build a trap – You make your own traps very easily. Bury a small plastic cup in your vegetable patch….kind of like a slug swimming pool. Fill these traps with beer. As the slugs crawl into the traps they will fall in the beer and drown. It really does work. I fill a beer trap every evening and in the first week I got dozens of slugs each night.

You can also make a trap with human hair. Just brush your lovely locks and grab the tufts of hair left behind and place them near your plants. The slug will get tangled in the hair.

Use your hands – This is by far the most time consuming way of removing slugs but if all else fails it’s good to catch them at dusk (this is when they tend to be out) and remove them one by one from your plants. Also avoid watering at dusk and do it instead in the morning. They like the cooler dusk temperatures and moist soil. By keeping things dry you make things less hospitable for them.

Sprinkle cornmeal – Slugs love to eat cornmeal but it expands in their stomachs after they eat it, resulting in dead slugs. Sprinkle cornmeal liberally around your garden to feed the slugs what YOU want them to eat and end up with fewer slugs in the long run.

I hope that one or more of these tactics will help you conquer the slugs in your own garden!

Get Rid of Slugs


Straw Bale Gardening

by Tiffany in Gardening

Straw Bale GardeningIf you have enough space for a bale of straw, then you have enough space for a garden. Growing vegetables in a straw bale is easy, fun and a good way to inspire kids to start gardening. A straw bale acts much like a raised bed, you just plant directly in the bale. It is a great gardening method to use in areas that have poor soil, or if your dwelling has minimal outdoor space. Use these tips to grow your own straw bale garden.


Any flat surface that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day is a great location for a straw bale garden.If it’s a grassy outdoor location, place several layers of newspaper or weed inhibiting fabric on the grass, then place the straw bale on top.

Straw Bale

Organic straw can be sourced from a local organic farmer. Bales can also be purchased from local garden supply center, but they may not be organic. I used Craigslist to source mine and I emailed before hand to see how the straw was grown and if it was sprayed with anything or grown in a field where the previous crop was sprayed.

Place the bale on its side with the twine running around the perimeter so it won’t impede plant growth from the top of the bale. The twine will also hold the bale together during the garden growing season.

Straw bales are usually cheap too! You can often find them for under $10 bucks a bale. We started our first straw bale garden with 20 bales and we got them for $6 a bale, delivered.

Bale Preparation

Start preparing the straw bale two weeks before planting time so the internal composting process will be well underway at planting time. You can find directions for how to do this but the basic idea is to water the straw bales thoroughly every day for a week. Every other day, place 3 cups of organic fertilizer on top of each bale prior to watering. The water will push the fertilizer down into the center of the bale where it’s needed. For a free natural source of nitrogen fertilizer look into human urine. It works!

On the tenth day place 1 1/2 cups of phosphorus and 1 1/2 cups of potassium on top of each straw bale and water thoroughly. Continue watering daily until the end of 2 weeks.

If you have prepared the bale(s) correctly, the interior should be hot and moist and black spots and/or mushrooms should be visible on the exterior of the straw bale.

mushrooms on straw bale

Essentially what you are doing when conditioning straw bales for a straw bale garden is you are causing the bales to start composting which makes it easier for planting and it fills the bales with beneficial microorganisms. You need to wait 2-3 weeks after starting so that your bales are not still “hot” from composting and burn your plants.

Time to Plant

Use a hand-held trowel to create planting holes in the top of the straw bale. Place potting soil in each planting hole, then place selected vegetable plants into each hole and cover roots with potting soil. Water plants well.

To plant seeds, spread 2 inches of potting soil over the entire top of the straw bale and sprinkle selected seeds on top. Cover seeds with a light layer of potting soil and water well.

Plants that grow upward (peas) or need support (tomatoes, cukes) can be grown quite easily too. Just add some stakes with wire or twine going across to support vines and plants with heavy fruit. You can even plant in the sides of the bales. The growing space seems small but it really isn’t.

For information on companion planting and ideal layouts for straw bale gardens I highly recommend the book Straw Bale Gardens. I borrowed it from the library initially and had to buy it, it is a great wealth of knowledge.

straw bale gardening

Water straw bale as needed during the growing season. Straw bales can dry out quickly so make sure you are harvesting rain water so you can water frequently. A good drip system or soaker hose down the middle of each row of bales is also beneficial.

lettuce and swiss chard straw bales

There is often no need to add more fertilizer, the straw bales contains enough nutrients to sustain the plants until harvest time. Though if you feel you need to add some extra nutrients you can use compost and compost tea.

Monday, May 30th, 2016

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