Despite my best laid plans, each year the garden brings its own ideas to what will, or won’t, be a success. I love the touch of chaos and curve balls it throws my way. But every year there was always one thing that I could depend on, and that’s a plethora of squash.
Winter keepers and summer sautés, patty pans and pumpkins, the rambling vines have always been eager to produce. There was the Year of 27 Spaghetti Squashes, the Great Zucchini Inundation of 2007, and we won’t forget the Bodacious Bounty of Melons in 2005.
But not this year.
First came intense heat at a time when the seedlings were tender in the ground. Their tiny roots systems couldn’t take up enough water to stave off the effects of 90-degree days in May.
I lovingly covered them with a bit of shade cloth and they mustered the courage to continue. I used 25-percent shade barrier, which has been shown to provide the right protection for plants in an area with intense sunlight.
Marauding squirrels were thwarted by caging the plants, but cages can’t keep out the most destructive pest I’ve had this season, one that’s laid waste to a sizable number of my pumpkin vines. The year 2020 is arguably apocalyptic in many ways, but no one prepared me for the pale rider coming in astride his noble steed: an earwig.
The number of the pincered insects is driving gardeners like me crazy, since these bugs eat soft tissues of plants overnight. They completely killed one pumpkin hill, seriously damaged another, and were on the way to wreaking havoc on the others when I deployed a two-punch counterattack: rolled newspapers and oil traps.
Earwigs hide during the day and prefer places that are a tight fit, so a damp, rolled up newspaper or corrugated cardboard lures them in. They tuck themselves into the roll by the dozens, and all a gardener has to do is pick up and dispose of the creepy condo each morning.
An alternate trap to consider is to set out a small, deep tub of vegetable oil with a tablespoon of soy sauce in it. Earwigs are lured to it, climb in and can’t get out. Though effective, this trap is useful for a few nights only because raccoons also enjoy the saucy oil.
Having thwarted my enemies, I’m confronted with another setback: all of my yellow crooknecks and every single one of my pumpkins are no-shows. They’re only producing male flowers; there are zero females, which are the ones that swell into squash. The male flowers are having a party with all of the pollinators, but no female flower has deigned to appear.
It’s normal for cucurbits – squashes, melons and cucumbers – to produce all male flowers for the first two weeks or so, but this has been going on for a month. I’m getting huffy at the snub. High heat can make the pollen not easily moved, so I’m used to some low fruit set. But this is something other than warm temperatures.
Having no female flowers is probably my fault; often too much nitrogen means they only produce males. In my impatience for them to get over their high heat blues early in the season, I gave the plants a little boost with fertilizer to help them through their stall. I’m paying for that mistake now and only time will tell if I get any females to show up.
When they do, I’ll turn my eyes to the skies and hope for a delay in frost and snow, so the pumpkins and winter squash can be ready for harvest.
By Carol O’Meara. Carol is an Extension Agent – Horticulture Entomology at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information call 303.678.6377, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.