We find our squashes extremely delicious. And, so do a lot of pests like the squash bugs and vine borers, cucumber beetles and stink bugs. Oh yeah, there’s bacterial wilt that we don’t want, either. Wilt is caused when the pests feed on the squash and inflect the plant with bacterium. As farmers, we are ready to fight back against these pests. And, we’re using some techniques to help deal with these pests without drenching the plants in toxic pesticides. So, what is it that we are doing instead? We are using trap crops to give us the upper-hand. And, the key to trap crops: pest attractiveness is not always related to wilt susceptibility. Trap crops are very attractive to the pests but not quick to wilt. For example, the blue Hubbard squash attracts the pests but resists the wilt. And how do we use this to our advantage?
Method: Plant a trap crop of Hubbards to protect the delicata, Long Island cheese and sugar dumpling squash, cucumbers or melons. We use the trap crop as a monitoring site where we know the pests are sure to arrive first. And then, we use our pest-control measures to protect the trap crop plants as soon as the pests arrive.
So what are some of pest-controls that we use? First we keep all of the crops healthy with foliage sprays of liquid fish and compost teas. Then, we scout for pests. When pests arrive, we apply diatomaceous Earth and orange oil treatments on the trap crop. These are harmless to humans and the plants but dangerous to pests with waxy coatings on their exoskeleton. We are careful not to over-use because these natural dusts and sprays are also dangerous to the bees. We prefer not to apply after crop bloom to avoid spraying the pollinating bees.
So what is the purpose of the buckwheat perimeter? We plant the attractive-flowering buckwheat to lure the pests away from the interior areas of crop growth while also attracting the pest’s natural enemies. Also, stink bugs exhibit “edge effect” behavior when moving through the landscape. In this way, the stink bugs only do damage at the borders in the trap crop outer perimeter.
- Crop rotations are used to prevent an increase in the pest population over time.
- Plant the trap crop (blue Hubbard or other maxima squash) so that it completely encircles the main crop without any large gaps in the perimeter
- Plant the trap crop in good soil so that it grows healthy to resist the pests. Plant the trap crop at the same time as (or before) the main crop.
- Multiple trap crop rows may be needed if extreme pest pressure is expected, or along tree lines where the heaviest pest pressure usually occurs as pests colonize the fields from overwintering sites in the woods.
- Treat the perimeter plants as soon as the first pests appear and begin to feed on the trap crop. Do not wait for the pests to colonize the trap crop.
- Monitor the field weekly until bloom or harvest and be prepared to make 1 or 2 additional perimeter sprays or, if necessary, full-field applications. Repeat perimeter applications are necessary if rain washes the insecticide from the plants prematurely or if more pests are found on the trap crop prior to bloom. Full-field sprays can be applied when pest pressure is excessive in a particular season, to prevent a breach in the perimeter and main crop infestation (2 beetles/plant for squash).