Can You Prevent Vine Borers?
By S.M.R. Saia
Last week, I wrote about the lovely garden outside of the National Museum of the American Indian. One of the things that struck me most about it was that the squash was still alive and well and producing fruit. I have never had a squash plant live through the summer, so I have to admit to having experienced a little, well, squash envy. Ever since, I have had vine borers on the brain. So I was pleased yesterday morning, as I was walking past the garden, to find one of the museum’s gardeners on the premises, in the flesh.
She was picking some of the lovely, dark green peppers, so I opened with what to me is the most obvious question about the garden: What do you do with the food? As it turns out, they have a restaurant on the premises, and all of the food harvested from the garden — which includes peppers, corn, squash, beans, and sweet potatoes — is taken inside to the chef. She said that sometimes the chefs come out and pick the vegetables themselves, which says to me that I should make time to get myself over there one day for lunch!
With my second question, I got down to business: Do you have problems with vine borers? I told her that I couldn’t help noticing how healthy the squash was, and lamented that my own squash plants never make it past July. She told me that that’s not a big problem for them, probably because they didn’t plant their squash until the end of June.
She explained that the timing was due to the Three Sisters Gardening Method. They plant the corn first and let it get some height to it. Then they plant the beans, and the beans grow up the corn as the corn continues to grow. The squash is the last to be planted, partly because it is so vigorous, and partly because it covers so much ground; they don’t want the squash to choke out everything else. By the end of June, conditions are dryer, too. Apparently, vine borers favor damp (i.e. spring) weather.
She further suggested putting a paper or plastic “collar” around the squash seedling if I plant it in the spring, made from a cup with the bottom cut out of it. She said there is some evidence that this can protect against borers, though it isn’t foolproof.
So, I learned some cool new things this week. As far as putting this new-found knowledge to use, I think I will plant squash twice next year, once in the beginning of May (with collars) so I can get an early crop, and again a few months later, to see if I can keep squash growing into the fall.