There are few pests that gardeners here love to hate as much as squash bugs – and for good reason.
Flourishing gardens in early spring can take a sharp turn as tiny copper-colored eggs tucked inconspicuously onto the undersides of leaves begin hatching into droves of hungry nymphs that seem to multiply at an unbelievable rate. The nymphs grow into adult shield-shaped brown bugs that wreck havoc in no time, attacking squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and other vining vegetables.
Some say squash bugs are a lot like roaches. Once you know you’ve got them, it’s too late.
They feed on the plants, sucking moisture from stems and leaves and spreading yellow vine disease in their wake, a bacteria that can cause healthy plants to turn yellow and wilt nearly overnight.
The heart-stopping discovery of the destructive bugs is usually followed by a flurry of remedies to try and rid the plants of the hated pests as quickly as possible, usually in the form of chemical or natural powders and sprays, picking, vacuuming, shaking and lots of squashing and stomping – all which vary in their degree of effectiveness.
What if there was another way?
That’s the question that Gainesville-area residents Wren Haffner and Ini Giesbrecht began asking three years ago.
With the help of a grant-funded experiment that has continued again this year, Wren and Ini are finding ways to breed squash to adapt to the conditions of Ozark County, which means (you guessed it) oftentimes being covered in squash bugs.
Moving to Ozark County, getting first-hand squash bug experience
Wren and Ini bought a piece of property and moved to Ozark County in 2016. Self-professed plant lovers, the pair brought many different seeds they’d collected from various places they’d lived prior to moving here. Their seed collection included a few varieties of squash they were eager to plant and harvest here.
“For two years in a row, our plants would start off looking great, and then once they had put on one or two fruits, they’d turn yellow, wilt and die before the fruits could mature…a common symptom of cucurbit yellow vining disease,” Wren said. “As we love squash, we were really discouraged. Talking with local gardeners we found that many people give up on growing squash in this region.”
Wren and Ini traded their seeds with another Ozark County gardener they’d met and became friends with. The new seeds were from a squash that had been grown by a man in Ava …….