Garden Fuck-Ups: What’s Eating My Squash?

Editor’s Note: New contributor Ali of Live for the Season is taking our long-standing Friday Fuck-Ups series in a new direction: out to the garden! Welcome, Ali!

Last year I found my green thumb and started my first garden. Each day after work I would rush home and check on my plants, and every time I saw something sprouting I would get excited. This is amazing! I’m going to grow my own food! Everything is wonderful! Until one day I went outside and saw a small crack at the base of my zucchini plant. Hmph. I looked closer and found a little pile of what resembled orange “sawdust” where the crack appeared. I didn’t think much of it — just figured that the weight of my zucchini plant had put pressure on the stem and as a result, it split. Still a bit curious, I reached down and touched the “sawdust,” and it felt mushy. But my plant was producing, so I wasn’t too concerned.

Fast forward two weeks. My zucchini production had decreased considerably. During the day the plant looked so sad and droopy that I considered yanking it out of the ground and putting it out of its misery. That tiny crack at the base of the stem had turned into a full-blown split, and it happened to all but one of my squash plants. A little research led me to find that my poor plants had fallen victim to “squash vine borers” — thick, worm-like creatures that burrow into the base of vines and eat their way inside the plant. They sit there inside the stems, like a chunky little kid stuck in a pipe at a water park, blocking all of the water and nutrients from getting past their thick little selves to the rest of the plant until the whole plant finally keels over and dies. And that orange sawdust I touched when I first noticed the issue? Yep — borer poop. Here is what my plant looked like after just a few weeks:

what the...?

Even worse was the fact that when the squash vine borers are finished killing the plants, they exit the stem and burrow into the soil where they “pupate.” They stay here throughout the winter, only to emerge in the spring as a flying, wasp-looking creature that will lay eggs at the base of next year’s plants and start the nasty-ass process all over again. Did these little bastards really think they could get away with living rent-free in my zucchini stems for not one, but two seasons? Apparently, yes. But thanks to some research, mama’s got a plan. Once I see the signs (droopy leaves, orange poop, cracked stems) I can supposedly stop these suckers before they wreak total havoc again by using a knife to make an incision in the stem until I find the culprit and evict him. Better yet, I can try to prevent him from even entering the plant by wrapping the base of the stem with material from an old stocking:

I also tilled the soil and found one of these guys pupating, and removed him from the garden. Who knows if this will work, but it’s worth a shot. I will have no pupating mo fo’s in my garden this year! Even if it means my vegetable plants need to wear panty hose.

PS: I didn’t take a photo in the very beginning, but if you want to see a picture of the beginning stages of when these bad boys attack, check out this shot from

To check out Ali’s garden, DIY projects, and plenty of recipes, visit her on her blog.

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  • Christina May 4, 2012  

    Along with the ribbons, plant radishes at the base of your squash and leave them alone to flower and go to seed. *Supposedly* radishes will keep away various squash pests (according to my fancy companion gardening book).

  • erica May 4, 2012  

    YAY garden fuck ups! i love it.

  • Miss K May 4, 2012  

    This totally happened to me last year! I am going to try the radishes, and the ribbons. I don’t know if I’m up for digging out the little suckers, though.

  • Ali Macaluso May 7, 2012  

    Thanks everyone for the suggestions! I am so going to try the radishes!

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