August 2008
Home Grown Tomatoes

I’ve got pickleworms in my butternuts!


By Kenn Alan

You gotta love those volunteers! A few weeks ago I was walking around my front flowerbeds and saw what I thought might be a couple of squash plants coming up. Sure enough; it turned out to be a yellow crookneck and three butternut squashes appearing there in the ground. I decided to let them be, even though I have no idea how those seeds got there.

Those plants have taken off! I now have squash umbrellas shading some of my sun-loving flowers. Over the last couple of weeks I have moved some of the flowers and retrained these wild vines that seem to grow about one-and-a-half feet per night so my bloomers can get some sun! There are about 30 nearly-mature fruits on the vines now.

Well, I noticed several round holes in a couple of the fruits. After a few e-mail exchanges with Tony Glover of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, we determined that I have pickleworms (Diaphania nitidalis) in my butternut (Cucurbita moschata) squashes!

The pickleworm is the larva of the Pyralid or snout moth (Family Pyralidae). Other moths in this family include a very common pest called the Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella). Indian meal moths are commonly found in grains, breads, dried fruit, pasta and dry cereals. FYI: I once found the Indian meal moth larvae in a tub of dishwasher detergent. I guess it looked like corn meal to them!

After we determined the pest causing my beautiful squashes to be destroyed, it was time to find a solution to the problem. Permethrin or carbaryl were recommended and, according to Internet research, are the best defenses to use before damage is done. The problem is I have holes in my butternut squashes now! Also, if I use either of those chemicals on my plants, I will potentially do harm to the honeybees.

My next door neighbor, Dr. Malia Fincher, has two very healthy bee colonies and we are anxiously awaiting some honey in a few weeks!

After careful consideration, I decided to do the manual killing of the pickleworms. I am now committed to inspecting each fruit every morning. I look for egg placement and holes. If I see a hole, I will poke it with a straight pin to kill anything that may be inside. In inspecting for eggs, I wipe each fruit with a dry towel to remove anything that may have been placed on the squash during the night.

I know it seems like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Each morning it takes me about 15 minutes to perform these tasks. It also affords me the opportunity to study all of the other plants' growth habits up-close and personal while protecting my pollinators.

How close do you watch your plants grow?

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