For a few days after I first noticed them, I had delusions of picking each one off one by one. Unfortunately, aside from the tiny hives I get on my arms if I reach down into the prickly pumpkin vines--which is my official excuse--I am a complete wimp when it comes to certain types of bugs. It's just something about the way they move--I can handle spiders, I like lady bugs--but these bugs stilt around on their freaky, little, black legs with their ugly, little, hard, gray shells--ergh! And there are so many of them that they're more than capable of fighting back--I had just set my sights on my first victim when I caught one of his little pals trying to crawl up my shorts--ergh, ergh, ERGH!
After doing some ultimately inconclusive research online, my next step was to visit my friendly neighborhood nursery. When I said "squash bugs" the Nice Owner gave me a kind and pitying look.
"What you have to understand about squash bugs is, once they're fully grown they're pretty much impervious to anything other than the pretty heavy chemicals."
I explained that our community garden rules prohibit any non-organic pesticides.
"Well, if that's the case, your best bet is to get them while they're young."
He recommended I hand pick and smash as many of the eggs as possible. (Incidentally, remember those pretty, bronze "mystery eggs" featured on "That Camera Lady" a few weeks ago? Yep, that's them!) He then sold me some diatomaceous earth--the crushed up bones of various tiny sea creatures--which he said might help with the adolescent evil-doers. (Well, he didn't actually say "evil-doers", that's my addition.)
So, I trotted off to the garden, lured the little cucurbita killers out with some water, and powdered them down good.
At first it was nice to feel like I was doing something; as the sweat trickled down my back and more and more bugs seemed to appear however, I began to feel ineffectual. There are certainly a few teenage and baby bugs that have partied their last, but knowing the adult bugs were unaffected--maybe laughing at me as they took another sip of my pumpkin-vine-juice cocktail--was kinda-sorta infuriating. I went home dirty and disgruntled.
A cool shower and a nice back rub from Sweet Husband put things in better perspective.
At this point, I have four or five pumpkins that are nearly ripe (they're an early, small variety). The bugs don't seem to be hurting them; but with the vines in such bad shape, even if all the bugs miraculously died tomorrow, I don't think I'd get any new pumpkins. Thus, the logical goal is to keep the vines alive just long enough to finish off what pumpkins I've got, and then humanely put them out of their misery.
Logically, that makes sense, right? But earlier today, when it was me versus them, locked in fierce combat, dueling to the death....If it had been my own personal garden, I would have been sorely tempted to nuke the bastards with everything I could--screw the butterflies, ladybugs, earthworms, and other innocent bystanders. It's very easy to sanctimoniously say "Oh, I don't believe in using pesticides" and "Being organic just takes a little more work, that's all." But it's a bit harder to walk that line in the August heat when plants you've worked hard over are going down the toilet.
But next year...well, I think it's just a matter of paying closer attention. Sweet Husband joked that's why master gardeners are all so old--it just takes that long to learn what to watch for. Because now the squash bugs have lost their element of surprise. Next year I'll know the pretty bronze eggs are up to no good; next year I'll take them out before they reach army size numbers.
But next year there will be some new type of bug to learn about the hard way too....