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Question. I am a 99% organic gardener, and as I prepare for another summer, I wonder if there are any new ways to combat vine borers; they are a common problem down here, and always get my zucchini vines. I have used row covers, injected the vines with BT, and even used a butterfly net to try and catch the adults as they fly around the garden. But they are smart and hard to catch; I think they know what 'a guy with a net' means!
    ---Manuel in Austin, Texas
Are there any organic or natural ways to get rid of vine borers? I have this problem every year but don't want to use insecticides. I heard that you recommended wiping the vines with BTK. Is this safe? I would really like to find a natural way.
    ---Emily in Salisbury, Maryland
How do I organically "scare off" the squash vine borer? Thanks,
    ---Sharon in West Chester, PA
Answer. That's easy, Sharon—dress up like a butternut squash! Those vines solid stems terrify this parasite of pumpkins, zapper of zucchini and spoiler of squash!

This is an especially nasty pest because the 'borer', a grubby white caterpillar, hides inside the hollow vines of popular squash-family plants like pumpkins and zucchini as it does its dirty work. Gardeners generally don't notice anything is wrong until the whole plant starts wilting, and by then, it's generally too late. So we will focus here on prevention; don't blame us if you end up with too much zucchini.

The problem begins in late Spring, when a moth lays its eggs at the base of your squash plants. Each female will lay about 200 eggs, but one at a time rather than in clusters, making the tiny eggs (a mere 1/25 of an inch long) almost impossible to spot. They hatch in a week or two, and the little caterpillars that emerge quickly tunnel into the hollow plant stems their eggs were so cleverly attached to. The caterpillars feed, hidden from view, for a month or so and then drop down into the soil to pupate. In the North, they emerge as adults the following Spring. Down in Manuel's Texas, the first run pupates quickly into adults, whose children commit another round of squash vine damage before they drop down into the soil for the winter.

That's means they're in your soil right NOW. If you had borer damage last year, you probably have hibernating baby borers lurking in your dirt; just like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (don't fall asleep in the garden!). Before you plant anything this season, use a hoe to cultivate the soil where your squash grew last year; look for cocoons an inch or so deep. If you find some, well…just make sure no one is watching and try not to sound too much like The Joker after he's captured Robin the Boy Hostage again.

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