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Army-worms Devastated My Winter Garden

Army worms have been brutal this fall.  I never saw it coming.  The summer garden came and went and I then planted my fall garden.  The first planting grew nice and the seedlings grew to an inch or two, then overnight – yes, overnight, the seedlings were gone.  It took a few days of research and observation to realize it is army worms eating and destroying my garden.

When I realized it was army worms, I knew to watch for them early in the morning and later in the evening because they usually feed at night.  Yes, I was able to see some of them, in different sizes of development.  They usually feed at night and then hide in the plant litter – the oak leaves you can see.  They are supposed to prefer grass, but for some reason our Bermuda grass was left alone and they were in my vegetable garden and some flower vines.

Army worms do most of their damage in the fall.

I have been re-planting my winter garden since September. The army worms have been brutal this fall. They have decimated my Swiss Chard, Kale, Spinach, Lettuce, Carrots and Beets.

These one-leafed chard seedlings are what I saw one morning.  The next morning, only the stems were left.
Chard partially eaten by army worms

This is another of my winter beds.  These kale seedlings grew a few inches tall before the bed was hit with the worms.  The worms eat all of the leaves, leaving the stems, which of course die.  The larger plant in the top right corner is a volunteer curcubit from the compost pile.
more army worm damage on fall crop

By my finger is the chewed off stem of a chard seedling.  The ground area in this picture was covered with chard seedlings, now it is barren ground.  Early in the morning or early in the evening I would occasionally see a few army worms on the ground or even on a seedling.
army worms eating chard seedlings again and again

The two yellow circles mark cut off chard plants.  These worms eat the leaves off of my tiny sprouts.  The plants are so small that even though I spray the plants with Bt, the leaves are so small that the worms appear to eat the plants before the Bt kills them.  After my fourth or fifth re-planting, I used a kitchen screen strainer to sprinkle diatomaceous earth all over the planted area.  This substance lasted for almost a week.  It even survived a few waterings.  Eventually the worms ate all of the sprouts that grew from that planting.

Two of these horrid creatures curled up and resting on an eaten sweet potato leaf.  These two are a little over an inch long.
army worms on sweet potato leaf

More, extensive worm damage on my sweet potatoes.  These were the first widely seen worm destruction – on the sweet potatoes.  Repeated spraying of neem oil and Bt didn’t seem to slow them down.  After my fourth or fifth planting, I used a kitchen screen strainer and shook diatomaceous earth over my plantingarmy worms damage on leaves

This okra leaf, along with most other leaves in my garden, are full of worm holds.  This is during the early phase of the worm damage.
worm holes on okra leaves

I thought I was going to get one final moonflower to bloom, after the initial assault of worms.  No, it was not to be.  The worms dug right in and ate the bloom.  I was hoping for one more pod of moonflower seeds.
worms eat moonflower bud

This moonflower has been destroyed by the worms.  They seem to prefer the flower sprouts.  You can see their droppings all over the leaves.
army worms in moonflower damage

These ugly army worms are in a cypress vine.  The largest are over an inch long and the smallest are less than a half inch long and as thin as a pencil lead.  They are all over.  This cypress vine has dozens of worms all through it, all sizes.

armyworms in cypress vines

These little black, round balls are caterpillar poop.  This area is under a large, 60 foot tall turkey oak tree.  The tree must be full of caterpillars because there is a constant, quiet ‘raining’ of these bug droppings.  The sound is audible as they droop thru the leaves and fall onto the ground.
catepillar poop all over the ground under giant oak tree

This worm decimates pine tree needles.  Clumps of these worms strip the green needles off, but fortunately, many of my damaged seedlings look like they are re-growing their needles on their barren stems.  These worms are redheaded pine sawfly caterpillars (Neodiprion lecontei).

this worm decimates pine tree needles

It has been a terrible fall for my garden.  I don’t know why so many army worms hung around in my garden.  Perhaps it was the mild past winter.  Cooler temperatures and a higher rainfall are favorable to them.  Army worms are named for their m.o., their method of operation.  The larvae occur and travel in large, army-like groups.  When they eat all of the food in an area, they march en mass and at night, to their next feeding area.  They consume about 80% of all of the food they eat in the last two to three days of their 30 day life cycle as a caterpillar.  Army worms are the larvae of a night flying moth. They hibernate or winter in south Texas then fly north in the spring and summer months, millions of them, looking for fields to lay their eggs.

Army worms go thru three stages of life.  In the pupa stage, the full grown army worm tunnels into the soil and transforms into the pupae, an inactive, non-feeding stage.  In seven to ten days, the moth emerges from the pupa.  The full grown army worm moth has a wingspan of about one and a half inches.  The moths are active at night and a single female can deposit 200 eggs.  Development from egg to moth takes about a week during the summer and a bit longer during the cool fall weather.  Development ends with the cool weather in November.  This means that they should be winding down, but they have eaten about 6 plantings of my fall garden!  I should have greens about a foot high, but I am still struggling to get mere seedlings to survive.  So very disappointed.

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Squash Vine Borer

I was walking along my squash row, looking at the plants as I walked along.  Then – there it was – a squash vine borer fly just there on the leaf.  I put my gloves on and picked it up – took it to the greenhouse and put it in a plastic zip bag.

This is the top side:

squash vine borer

This is its underside:

bottom side of a squash vine borer

I mixed up a fresh batch of BT worm killer and injected the stems of all of my decent sized summer squash.  The SVB is a moth and when I was trying to pick it up with my gloves, some of the glittery wing covering that moths have rubbed off on the leaves.

These evil little bugs have already claimed the lives of 2 of my large zucchini plants.  Constant vigilance is needed since it seems that they are a constant pest during the summer here in the hot south.

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The Dreaded, Evil Squash Vine Borer?

Always on the lookout for signs of the evil squash vine borer, I think that I found a sign today.  This 8 Ball zucchini was wilting in the middle of the day and the other squashes were fine.

Wilting 8 ball zuch

(Sorry for the blurry pic.)

So, I went on the offensive.  I got out my BT worm killer and mixed up about half a cup. I use 10cc of BT mixed with 4 oz of water – I mix it in an old 8 oz water bottle so that it is easy to measure, just fill it up half way with water. Also, this is enough of the mix to do the job for a few days.

I use a syringe, a 1″, 22 gauge needle – the fattest and shortest needle I could find – to inject the BT into the base of the squash stem.  I inject in 2 places along the first 4 or so inches of the stem.   If the needle gets plugged with stem material, just push down on the plunger until it clears the needle.  I hadn’t noticed any of the wet sawdust looking stuff the borers push out of their hole, but when I squirted the BT into some of the stems, it did squirt out of the bottom of the stem. I went ahead and injected all of the sizeable summer squash plants as a preventative. It does no harm if there are no borers. I will re-treat maybe a couple of times a week unless I see problems and need to take stronger action.

This zuke perked up in the evening shade. The smaller center leaves never wilted, so hopefully I treated the plant in time. These hybrid 8 Ball zukes are the strongest squash plants that I currently have growing. They sprout faster and grow faster and larger than the Obsidian zuke and the 2 yellow squash types that I have also planted.

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Cabbages – Possibly My Favorite Winter Vegetable Crop

Originally published December 2011

I love growing cabbages.  I learned to like cabbage because I like to grow it.  I use it mainly in my stir fry in the summer and in my garden vegetable soup in the winter.  I have had good results in storing winter cabbage thru early summer.  Wrap it in newspaper and store in the refrigerator.

I start my cabbage seedlings while it is still blistering hot in August.  I then have quite a time trying to keep them cool and yet in plenty of sun. 

Here are pics of my just planted seedlings, after growing for about a month, and current pics with the heads starting to form.

When planting my seedlings, I scoop the hole, put about a tablespoon of both garden lime and bone meal in the hole before I place the seedling.  The bone meal seems to help the roots and the plants perk up and start to grow quickly and I hope the lime wards off the root diseases that cabbages suffer from.  These substances are what is in those containers you see in the left side of this pic.

cabbage seedlings

Cabbages after maybe a month of planting the seedlings.  This is an evening picture.

cabbages are growing   right along

Current picture – taken in the morning after a good freeze the night before.  These are red cabbages.  The leaves always look a bit floppy after a freeze – see leaves at top of the pic.

red   cabbage

I’m hoping that these Early Dutch cabbages will form their 2-3 pound heads before year end.  I need to plant my spring cabbages by February, meaning that these plants need to be matured and out of the way.  I only have a tiny garden space, so I have to constantly recycle the growing area.  No room to leave dormant.  If only I had an acre for my garden….blueberries…blackberries….fruit trees….nut trees…..grains….perennials such as kiwi….actually enough space for all of the bean varieties I have and want to plant….herb garden….and so on…….dream on…….

cabbages closeup

In this pic below, see the bug holes in the middle leaves?  The plants grew fine for a while, then I noticed lots of small holes in the middle of the leaves – this means worms.  The leaves were infected with tiny, green 1/4″ worms.  I rubbed and squashed the ones I could find, then I sprayed the leaves with BT – an organic worm killer.  This solved the problem.  Notice that the newer growth does not have worm holes.  The red cabbages were not affected and not all of the green cabbage were affected either.


It is getting close to time to start my cabbage seedlings for this coming spring.  I prefer to only plant ‘early’ cabbage in the spring.  I do this because I want the heads to mature before the hot weather sets in.  Cabbages prefer cool, moist growing conditions – not hot, dry conditions.  Also, spring plantings are very much more subject to worms and aphids.  It is truly amazing, but I had several stunted looking cabbages this past spring – the stunted cabbages were covered with aphids, but the normal, health looking cabbage plants were NOT attacked by aphids.  I truly do believe that pests
zero in on weak plants and are lest apt to attack healthy plants.

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Lemon Squash With Fruit

Originally published Summer 2011

Lemon squash is probably the most unique squash that I have grown.  It is a summer squash, but it grows a thick, long, hollow stem.  At about 4 weeks, it is about 4 feet long.  At each leaf junction, it puts out a useless, miniature tendril and several yellow, BB sized fruit which slowly grow to maturity – but not necessarily in the order they appear on the vine.

Lemon Squash with fruit

This vine is growing in amongst other summer squash so a pic of it’s full length is not possible.  This section of the vine is about 15 inches long – the total vine is almost 4 feet!

Since I am having so much trouble with the evil squash vine borer this year, I just injected 3 shots of BT into the stem near the base. This is just in case there is a SVB living in the stem – which there might be because when I stuck the top of the vine with the needle and shot the BT in, some squirted out of the bottom of the vine.  Chances it was a SVB hole in the un-visible bottom of the vine.

To use BT, I mix about 10cc/1ml of it in a small 8oz water bottle and add 4 oz of water.  If I did my math correctly, this is the proper dose.  I then use a 3 ml syringe with a  1″,20 gauge needle and fill up up and shoot the full dose into the stem – I am doing this in about 3 locations along the first 6 or so inches of the stem.  If there is a crack in the stem, which there frequently is, I just stick the needle into that crack.  Sometimes the needle gets filled with squash stem and I have to pull it out and press hard to clear the needle, then stick back into the same needle hole and squirt.  I’ve been hit hard by the evil SVB this year so I am doing serious preventive care.

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The Evil, Dreaded Squash Vine Borer

Originally published June 2011

The evil, dreaded squash vine borer has been busy in my squash patch.

I killed this one:

Squash vine borer

I found this zuke plant this morning – yesterday it looked just fine, but today it is near dead. I am sure it won’t survive.

Squash vine borers killed this zuke

A few days ago I found this acorn winter squash with it’s leaves limp. It also was just fine the day before. It has held on for a few days. Because acorn squash is not c. moschata, it is susceptible to the evil SVB.

Wilted acorn squash

Since it appears the evil SVB is at work in my garden, I went on a pre-emptive strike against them. I mixed up a cup of BT worm killer and went around injecting a syringe or 2 full into the stem of each of my summer squashes and into the acorn squash. This spring I tried to keep an eye out for the SVB’s red eggs at the base of the stems, but never saw any. I also kept an eye out for that wet saw-dusty stuff that they make as they eat out the inside of the vines – it is usually visible in a crack or hole in the stem. In the case of this zuke plant, it was always on the bottom of the stems, so I never saw any until I squirted the BT into the stems and saw it leak out the bottoms. Anyway, I have squirted the worm killer into stems and it should kill any borers. I’ll plan on making the injecting rounds every week. I don’t know what else could have weakened the acorn squash and caused the wilt. With the exception of the acorn squash and the one crensha, all of my winter squashes this year are c. moschata – because they have solid stems and thus not susceptible to the evil squash vine borer.  All summer squash, however are c. pepo and are very susceptible.

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Waltham Butternuts – First Fruits are Setting

First Published June 2011

Waltham Butternut winter squash is an old faithful squash.  I only planted 5′ of Waltham this year because I planted 5 other cucurbit moschata winter squashes.  The Waltham has set it’s fruit first.  I have gotten to where about the only winter squash I will plant is cucurbit moschata, because they have a solid stem and thus not susceptible to squash vine borers.

First fruits of Waltham Butternut sqush

Last season, the evil squash vine borer ravished my cucurbit maxima. After the damage was done I learned that I could kill the borer inside the stem by using s syringe and injecting BT worm killer into the vine. This year I will be ready to inject BT into the hollow stems of my summer squash which are almost entirely cucurbit pepo. Everyday I walk the rows and at each summer squash, including zucchini, I examine the base of the plant, looking for the borer’s red eggs and looking for the wet saw-dust-looking stuff they push out of their holes. Haven’t found any so this year.

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