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
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Black spots are tiny worms
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Small worms huddled together
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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.

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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!

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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.

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Pill bugs roll into a ball when disturbed
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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.

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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

Dealing With Aphids and Hoping for Lady Bugs in the Spring Garden

Aphids in the garden and how to deal with them.

A while ago I had aphids on my lime tree. I simply sprayed them off and they went away.

Now I am dealing with aphids on my pepper plant and eggplant. I’m doing the same thing – spraying them off with water. Also I wipe them off with my fingers.  I never spray insecticides on anything in my yard.

But, the key here is to check for the presence of ladybugs – in all their life stages. I don’t want to get rid of those.  And, in order for ladybugs to choose your garden to lay her eggs, she wants to see some aphids for her children to eat.

So maybe I should be leaving the aphids there and see what happens?  A large aphid infestation can kill plants.  (Update: by May, every aphid was gone!)  Aphids suck the juice from the greenery. They excrete a sugary substance which then attracts ants, but ladybugs eat lots of aphids every day.

getting rid of aphids
Aphids on my pepper plant

These aphids were brown in color. Aphids can be many colors, such as green, black, brown, pink, yellow, white, and blue (really?) and even furry (wooly aphids).
The little buggers are even inside the white flowers on the pepper. And I recently purchased a hot pepper plant and noticed they were also on it.

aphids in pepper flower
Aphids inside pepper flower

Aphids in Their Many Colors

aphid colors
black aphids
green aphids
green aphids
pinkish red aphids
pink / red aphids
yellow aphids on lime tree
Yellow aphids on my Persian Lime tree
aphids on squash flower
Aphids on squash flower

Because I have a small garden with only one or two plants containing aphids, I can easily control them with a spray of water.  Or wait patiently for lady bugs to show up.

A natural way to destroy aphids is to have ladybugs eat them. Unfortunately the beautiful spotted ladies never seem to show up at the right time, or in large enough numbers.  Or could it be that the garden is not welcoming enough?  Or I am not patient enough!

black bug on pepper plant
Black bug on pepper plant could be ladybug larvae?  The clue: black bug with 6 legs and red to yellow markings, so I say “yes”

I will begin paying better attention to the eggs, bugs and pests in my garden.  In fact after writing this post, I went outside to check on my hibiscus.

Hibiscus plants are notorious for attracting aphids.  I figured there may be some and possibly some lady bugs or eggs.  Wow, was I in for a surprise when I saw my hibiscus infestation!

Organic Control of Grasshoppers in the Garden

I’m trying to control a grasshopper infestation in the garden.

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Grasshopper Pests

I have millions of grasshoppers in my garden.  They are chewing up the leaves on my parsley, sunflowers, oregano and pretty much everything.  Now they are eating the flower buds off the coreopsis which seems to be a favorite of theirs.

As I walk along the edge of my small garden area, they jump away from me in a wave of moving leaves.  There are a lot of them.

I am an organic gardener, so I’ve been searching for natural ways to get them to leave, or die.  The organic product (Semaspore Bait) that kills them, is best used when they are young, so I don’t know if mine are young enough.  Even a small container is quite expensive, and since I don’t know if it will work at this time, I’m hesitant.  I’ll look for it at Agway.

A post at Home Guides has given me some advice for keeping the pests off my leaves naturally.  I know that garlic spray works well for insect control, but I don’t want my herbs to taste like garlic.  I might use it on plant leaves I won’t be eating.

I am going to try the molasses in jars approach.  By mixing molasses with water, the sweet drink attracts grasshoppers.  I have lots of little canning jars which may work for this experiment.  The idea is to attract the grasshoppers to the liquid and then they drown.  I have to bury jars in the dirt and fill them halfway with the mixture.  I hope it doesn’t attract beneficial bugs as well.  I’ll keep an eye on it.

Since I have molasses, and lots of canning jars, I plan to get started on that right away.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  I might combine that with the garlic spray approach and between the two, I may have some success.  There is no way I can kill them all within the short span of summer.  I’d love to have more birds, toads, frogs and even snakes around to chow down on the little critters.  I’ve seen some toads, and even a frog.  But my cats tend to keep everything away.  I only feed hummingbirds in summer because of the bears in my area.  The smell of sunflower seeds can bring bears into the yard, and I’ve had them destroy my feeders when left out in summer.

grasshoppers eating rhubarb
Eating Rhubarb Leaves