Losing the battle.

Winter Squash “Orange Magic”

After the peas came out, Bed 2c was blessed with 2 “Orange Magic” winter squash plants that were started from seed a few days earlier. In the summer heat, both quickly grew large, gorgeous leaves and shortly thereafter these big, beautiful blooms appeared. Unlike some varieties, “Orange Magic” seems to set fruit with its very first blooms, rather than producing a lot of useless male blossoms first. (I say “useless” but they do make a tasty lunch when breaded and lightly fried! or used with ricotta and sage to stuff fresh ravioli!)

Abundant fruit set

Quickly the vines climbed and wove through the pea fence, setting a lot of fruit as it grew. That’s another thing I like about “Orange Magic.” It’s not stingy, and one vine will produce lots of gorgeous deep orange (my favorite color!) 2-3 lb. fruit in about 80-85 days. In addition, it was the winner of my unofficial Squash Comparison tasting back in 2018, with its smooth grained, sweet, nutty flavor.

Just look at all those flowers and beautiful baby squash! and ignore those wilting leaves….????

And then the bubble burst, and I recalled why I didn’t plant “Orange Magic” last year. I love it, my guests loved it…and the squash borers love it as well! If I had reviewed my notes, it was clearly stated. If I had read my notes, I would have been vigilant from the very outset, and armed with my trusty syringe and Bt, I might have nipped their attack at the beginning. As it was, I entered the battle late, maybe too late. The first day, I injected Bt just above where the frass indicated entry and activity, and made another injection about 3″ above that sight. I hoped that would do the trick and the borer would perish.

Next, I gave the plant a good watering and covered the base with moist soil, hoping it would develop more roots along the main stem above the damaged area and recover. Looking back, maybe that was wishful thinking.

Two more injections further up followed later that week, and then even later I decided emergency surgery was required, so I hosed off all the dirt piled at the base, sterilized a sharp knife and opened up the stem at the frass area. I could have taken photos of the two fat, happy white borers with light brown heads removed, but I didn’t. Bt has to be eaten by the borers in order to be lethal, and apparently they didn’t eat any although they appeared to be surrounded by the liquid! Guess they didn’t drink either. I carefully checked for other frass areas, but didn’t find any. The moist soil was replaced around the base.

Sadly, I think the battle is lost!

Don’t be confused…this is the same squash plant, but the photo was taken from the opposite side, so now it’s on the right rather than the left. Obviously, I lost the first battle of the Borer War, but so far (knock wood) I’m holding my own in plant #2, and being very vigilant inspecting plants #3 and #4, which were planted a week later than those in these photos. Today, I will conduct a post mortem on the deceased. I want to know more about how the stems and leaves are constructed internally, and to see if there were more borers further up the stalk. It will be an educational session, I hope, and I will take notes…which should be helpful next year…if I remember to read them!


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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16 Responses to Losing the battle.

  1. bcparkison says:

    Oh pooh…sometime we just can’t win for losing.


  2. Sorry! It’s a munching world of pests out there. Best of luck next time.


  3. Jo Shafer says:

    I don’t have that particular problem with my summer squash, but I do gather from your post that I should remain positive and patient with LARGE leaves and ABUNDANT yellow flowers. Useless male blossoms, you say? And they DON’T produce fruit? Phooey for me. I’d never heard tell of that. And here I was about to rip out the whole plant until, early this morning, those huge leaves surprised me. I simply cut back the lemon balm to allow more bright sun light in that area.

    However, five Brandywine tomatoes not only seem to grow larger overnight but also finally begin to change from shiny green to almost yellow. Orange will become orange, followed by — voila! — a rich red. I guess I’m in business, now, eh?


    • carolee says:

      Nope, male blossoms don’t produce fruit, but they are necessary for the bees to carry pollen from them to the female flowers (or you can do it.) If you look where the petals connect to the stem, the male flowers are straight and smooth. The females already have a little rounded bulge that will become fruit if fertilized. Sexy! Hope your tomatoes ripen soon. We are now being inundated, so I will have to start canning soon. It’s been so hot, I’ve given tomatoes away rather than can!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Eden says:

    Talk to me about Bt. I’ve just been planting hubbard squash as a lure for the borers and praying their lifecycle ends before they figure out my pumpkins.


    • carolee says:

      Bt is an organic caterpillar control, usually sprayed on leaves of cabbage, broccoli, hollyhocks, etc. to kill worms. It is not a contact spray, it must be eaten by the worms, but it is VERY effective. However, it must be reapplied after each rain, or if lots of new growth has occurred. Two years ago, I tried injecting diluted Bt into the stems of squash where I found frass. I’ve also cut off wilted leaves and filled the hollow stem with diluted Bt. Often it works, sometimes I think I am too late in doing it and too much damage has occurred, but it’s worth a try.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Going Batty in Wales says:

    That is so frustrating! And so unlike you to forget / not read why you didn’t plant those last year. I hope the post mortem proves useful.


    • carolee says:

      I read my notes from 2019, but not from 2018. And, actually, I didn’t do the post mortem, because the plant looked a bit better after the rain, so I’m hoping it will at least live long enough to bring it’s “oldest” fruit to maturity. I’ve removed the other younger fruits, judging it would be too much to ask this struggling plant for more!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Going Batty in Wales says:

        I wish I could say I read back through the scrappy notes I do manage to make but that would be to lie! I usually find them too late.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Re-Farmer says:

    Did just the one plant get attacked? How are the others?


    • carolee says:

      So far, just one, but I’m inspecting the others daily. Yesterday, I removed about 60 squash bug eggs from a younger planting of 4 winter squash “Carnival.” Squash bugs do damage by carrying and spreading disease, but borer damage is much more destructive and fast-acting.


  7. Oh dear. I’m currently battling cabbage white butterflies…..


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