Cut Worms, Pill Bugs and Squash Vine Borers Invade My Space

My little garden has been growing like mad, but now the cut worms and other creatures are making a mess of it.

Cut Worms

I’ve seen black worms eating leaves, and they are not picky which plant they attack. These are the cutworms – pictures below. Cutworms can also nip a new seedling at the base and kill the entire plant, but these are concentrating on the leaves.

Cutworm eating fennel
Cutworm eating fennel
Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 2.30.39 PM
Black spots are tiny worms
Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 2.30.23 PM
Small worms huddled together
Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 2.30.32 PM
Tiny cutworms living underneath a cucumber leaf

It turns out getting rid of the cutworm is easier than getting rid of the other pest, the pill bug. I can pick the worms off the plants. The large ones are fairly easy to spot, and my garden is small. I plopped them into my tray bird feeder and the cardinals came and had a meal!

Pill Bugs

My other problem is all the tiny bugs, which I believe are Pill Bugs. They are everywhere from huddled along the wooden sides of the raised bed, to deep down under the soil. And I’ve found them munching on my cucumbers too.

At first I thought these were a form of the cutworm. These bugs range from tiny to fingernail size. I thought they were harmless, but have found them eating the vegetables, so they need to go.

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 2.51.52 PM
Along the inside edge of the raised bed

As I was inspecting the garden, I found colonies of the pill bug along the edges of the garden. Too many to pick off. And as I dig, I find more underground!

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 2.52.37 PM
Single pill bug

I’m always looking for organic, natural ways to deter destructive bugs because I don’t use harmful sprays in my yard.

I read that the cutworm will eat corn meal and that will kill it. I’m hesitant to use cornmeal because of the raccoons that visit my yard each night.  I don’t want them digging through my garden because they smell corn!

One site suggested using Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth. I just happened to have some of that!  It’s made of crushed fossils which cut open bug that crawl across it which causes them to die.  I sprinkled it over the dirt in my garden paying attention to the edges.

Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 2.52.28 PM
Pill bugs roll into a ball when disturbed
Screen Shot 2018-06-01 at 2.52.53 PM
Bug on the cuke – hard to see, but he’s there a little left of center.

Besides these two destructive pests, I’ve got worms boring into my cucumbers and summer squash. While I was outside dealing with these bugs, an orange wasp (it’s really a moth, but looks like a big bee) was buzzing around my garden. Come to find out it is a squash vine borer moth looking to lay it’s eggs in my garden!  The link has a photo of what those eggs look like.

The link above will give you lots of info about how to prevent the borer moth from laying it’s eggs all over the vegetables.

One idea is to use a Floating row cover.  If the moth can’t get to the crops, it can’t lay the eggs.

Another suggestion which I found to be a simple try is to place a yellow bowl of water in the garden to attract the moth and drown it.

Troubles With Worms in the May Vegetable Garden

I would ordinarily consider May to be the beginning of vegetable growing season, but already I am giving up on one of my tomato plants and the summer squash.  Worms are doing a number on everything else, and I am not sure it’s worth having a garden at this point.

Almost as soon as I planted the squash I had trouble with blossom end rot. I began watering less, and added a fertilizer with calcium.

I managed to pick two very small squash, but that is it. Other than those two, every squash that has grown, on both plants, has wizzled up and rotted. One squash plant has no flowers and no squash. The other has flowers and little squash, but all the squash are doing the same thing.

summer squash plant with yellow flowers
The summer squash began fine, then went downhill

I will be pulling up the plants and putting something else in the fabric bags. I do have zucchini seeds which I may try. Summer means fresh squash to me, and I hate that I can’t seem to grow it here.

Tomatoes should be easy to grow here in Florida. Tomatoes like sun and lots of water. Of the two plants I bought, one is a “celebrity” which is still doing okay. Currently it has around 8 tomatoes growing.

The other plant didn’t even have a name, and that one has bit the dust. The leaves began to turn brown and then the green tomatoes are rotting and falling off the vine.

I’ve grown tomatoes for many years, and very successfully, in New Hampshire. Just one year I had a problem with late blight. I don’t have blight this time, but I don’t know what the issue is. Honestly, I think the plant may have simply been bad stock. I hate having to buy my vegetables from a big box store.

green tomatoes
This tomato plant turned brown and the tomatoes are rotting off the vine.

Also I have been overrun with cutworms. They are eating the leaves of nearly every plant I have in the garden. I started picking them off by hand, but many of the leaves are already chewed. Being more vigilant will help, I hope. It’s been very rainy, which keeps me inside. Garden pests can get out of control if they are not caught quickly.

These worms are eating everything from the cucumber leaves to the tomatoes, basil and pepper plants.  Cutworms can also cut off the new stems of seedlings.  I don’t have that problem.

cut worm
Cut worm that fell into the birdbath

The squash and cucumbers have another kind of worm which bores into the vegetable and makes it mushy.  They also eat through the stems which makes the rest of the vine droop and die, like in my photo.  For more info on growing cucumbers and dealing with the pickleworm, read the post at the Central Florida Garden blog.  It seems there haven’t been too many newer posts, but I intend to search it for useful information.

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 5.21.42 PM

All in all, I am disappointed in my May garden.  The orange ruffle hibiscus still has fuzzy mites on the leaves even though I have sprayed and trimmed it way back.  I’ve seen this same circular white ring on the backs of some of my pepper plants.  That is all I need!  I didn’t have half these problems in the North.  No wonder I don’t see farms around here!

Hot pepper plant with chewed leaves
Hot pepper plant with chewed leaves