Organic Gardening Organic Pest Control

Organic Gardening – Tempted to give it up?

Heather, a reader, was telling of her frustration with squash bugs and squash vine borers via a comment on the post, Squash Bugs – It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over . Squash bugs, squash vine borers, cucumber beetles, etc. —  frustrations most of us can relate to.

At the end of her comment she expressed a feeling that I think may also be prevalent in today’s world.

Perhaps you’re one who feels as Heather did when she wrote:

“I must also admit that I am tempted to give up trying to be organic for those crops. Only because if I don’t grow them, I end up buying conventionally grown anyways, and at least if I grow them they’d be fresher, tastier, and cheaper.

“It doesn’t help that I have a new neighbor who does everything “wrong”. Raised beds with weed-guard fabric right on top of her lawn, which are only about 6″ and filled with mostly Home Depot bagged soil. Miracle-Gro, overhead watering with tap water, and spraying with all kinds of chemicals. But she is getting an abundant harvest of squashes and melons! I’m jealous.”

Perhaps I can shed some light on why many folks who are “trying” (not yet totally committed) to go organic have this same feeling and are ready to throw in the “organic” towel after what they perceive to be a “long” time in trying to deal with the problem organically.

Basically two things account for people turning to chemicals when they think organic is not working.

  • First is the tendency we humans have to go for what we “believe” to be the easiest and quickest way to get what we want. (Keep in mind that what we believe often has nothing to do with truth or facts.)
  • And second, our beliefs have been influenced tremendously by the programming of advertising. Advertising and promotion have been vastly successful in causing the masses to perceive as truth many untruths and do what is beneficial for the advertiser whether it’s beneficial for the masses or not.

How to Deal with it

Educating ourselves is the best way we have of dealing with our human nature and of undoing the erroneous programming that has pulled the wool over our eyes ever since we were old enough to walk.

Calling the bad stuff good and the good stuff bad.

For more than 125 years the chemical companies — controlling chemicals for agriculture and the medical profession — have worked at literally creating a need for and selling their products.  It was slow going in the first 60 or 70 years — although still successful.

After World War II — things really took off and now the chemical companies have so much money and prestige they control not only mainstream media, but government as well. Using fraudulent science — chemicals are promoted as being safe and necessary. They’ve done such a good job of promoting the lie — in spite of the facts that are readily available to the contrary  — that it is thought to be the truth by the vast majority.

An Example Almost Everyone Will Relate to

There is a chemical that the vast majority of conventional gardeners use freely to kill bugs in their gardens.

Please keep in mind that this chemical does NOT put an end to the bugs forever — or even just for this season. Like most chemicals it only kills those that are there at the time (along with killing the good bacteria in the soil and any beneficials that may have been there).  More pest bugs come to take the place of the others and then the chemical is used again.

This chemical is readily absorbed through the skin of the gardener. It can cause blurred vision, nausea, headache, salivation, breathing difficulties, muscle twitching, and loss of control of body movement. It can cause serious neurotoxic effects in animals, including irreversible neurological damage.

It causes genetic mutation and is toxic to the kidney and liver, damages ovaries and testes, and causes behavioral problems in humans and animals.

Because of various findings about this chemical – as far back as 1969, a Health Education and Welfare Department report recommended its use restricted to prevent human exposure.

It is so much a part of gardening life in the US (or maybe even world wide) that most users consider it safe — and will tell you it is. Most presume that because it’s sold everywhere and is so readily available and has been used for so long —- it must be safe.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The name of the chemical is carbaryl.  Still don’t recognize it?  It goes by the name of Sevin.

Final Thoughts

No one hates squash bugs, squash vine borer, cucumber beetles, or potato beetles more than I do. Or any other pests for that matter that I have to spend more than 10 minutes dealing with.

I certainly relate to Heather’s frustrations and wish the solution came in a can or bag but it doesn’t.  You either work with nature or against her.  I figure I’ve got a lot better chance by working with her.

There have been times over the years that I’ve felt like giving up gardening because of the effort needed to deal with pests.  But I don’t — because my garden is the only place I can obtain food that will sustain our bodies and help keep us healthy.

We eat mostly what is in season and growing in my garden.  I can usually get organic carrots, cabbage, and broccoli in the winter to supplement my own produce. Otherwise – I won’t buy them.

I have a better chance of having the health to enjoy my life if my food is free of poison.


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  • I can relate to Heather’s frustration. I’ve felt it too. I would turn it around and say, that ANY veg. she gets from her organic garden would be far more nutritious than what her neighbor is hauling in by the bucketload. If I had a choice, I’d eat Heather’s smaller harvest any day, ANY DAY than those other items that look like veg. but are actually barely even deserve the name. Yes, I feel strongly about the Monsanto engineered seeds, the chemical laden Miracle Gro, the who-knows-what from who-knows-where in a bag.

    I did not grow any winter or summer squash this year simply because of the work involved in keeping on top of my squash bug populations. However, last year I had about 250 winter squash from my small garden and it was enough to get me right to May. I’ll grow them again next year, but it IS time consuming and can be very frustrating to keep up with them. It may help her to know,that we are all in the same boat struggling with the same issues more or less. The other thing that you told me, that helped is diversity. That way if one crop breaks your heart, you have something else. Usually, for me it is swiss chard – nothing ever touches it!! Don’t give up Heather!! Keep reading here, and you will be encouraged and you will have some great successes.

  • I understand the frustration. I am so near giving up on an organic lawn. I’ve kept away from chemicals for three years and now it is very nearly overtaken by weeds. I would scrap the lawn and plant it but husband refuses.

  • I can understand how Heather feels. I live in the bug country (North Florida). The other day I picked over 300!!! army worms off my buckwheat cover crop. But I also saw beneficial insects dining on them. Just to tell you the tale of my squash experience this year. I was excited to actually get some squash, last year the female flowers would not open at all. So I got a good harvest of squash for three weeks. Then the vine borer got them all. I started new ones – put them under row covers, they grew big and beautiful. Then they got too big for under the row covers and I took them off, and it went downhill from there. I consistently wiped the stems to prevent the vine borers but the blooms and just appearing fruits are getting infested with pests (not sure what it is some type of worm or maybe vine borer), no fruits and one bloom. My peppers are still doing good and I had tons of eggplants I had a few tomatoes, some critters ate most of it, and I am looking forward to the fall season to grow broccoli, collards, kale, radishes and tons of lettuce. I am very frustrated about the squash (and tomatoes), I will try another strategy next year – but I do know for sure without a doubt I will NOT use any chemicals!

  • I feel Heather’s paiin. My husband, Stephen, and I have always (for 30 or more years), grown vegetables. Actually, “we” is a loose term, because Stephen has been the food gardener. But it’s been a half dozen tomato plants, a zuke or two, maybe some yellow squash, a cantaloupe here and there, and always cucumbers. Then last year, we made a big commitment to a substantial garden, and Stephen is in charge of 50+ tomato plants and the beans. I have control of the asparagus, six varieties of peppers, tomatillos, 4 varieties of potatoes, sweet potatoes cukes, corn, berries, and more! I lost one squash plant last year, and I thought it was stink bugs. This year, I learned that it was actually squash bugs and likely the squash vine borer, because we have been infested this year… it has been a horrible experience. The cucumber beetles have also been terrible. I know, Theresa, you use no sprays, but I have found the pyrethin to help with the cucumber beetle. Unfortunately, there is nothing that will stop the squash bugs other than hand-picking and scouting for eggs. However, I did just read more closely that Neem will actually sterilize bugs that eat it. That seems very promising to me. Of course, the squash vine borer is just impossible. I have lost three zukes, 2 winter squash, and both of my Golden Egg squash plants. The one remaining Hubbard might actually provide me with fruit, and the straight neck yellow squash seems happy, though production is very limited. The one remaining zucchini plant — the leaves are getting thick and I’m sure it is just too tired to fight any longer. Sevin has been a part of our lives forever, until last year with the new garden… I have accepted the possibility that there will be years when I will be buying my squash from the city market. I am ready to tear out remaining plants. put in some peas and I am getting excited about planting cover crops this fall. Next year, I may even do a early spring cover crop and start the squash and cukes really late, hoping that the offensive bugs will move on to greener pastures. I spoke with three small farmers at the market on Saturday, and the one encouraging note was that infestation doesn’t seem to follow year after year. If Heather is like me, a person with a job besides the home garden, the frustration is particularly intense and you begin to feel that it’s just not worth it. I can say that I have gotten beyond that point and now that the beans are coming in strong and I’ll be canning tomatoes later this week, along with putting up relish of squash from farm-bought squash… and harvesting potatoes this weekend… well, it’s okay that we are where we are. Another year like this, and I may just forego squash in the garden, but for now, I think it’s worth the fight.

  • Dear Sandra, Carole, Susan, Dagmar, and Virginia —
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking time to express your understanding of the frustration Heather felt.
    As Sandra said — we are all in the same boat — and none of us like it — but I think we are all working towards having conditions improve.

    We need to use every tool at our disposal to allow nature to do the job for us. I’m certainly not there yet — but that’s what I’m working towards. Cover crops, diversity, crop rotation, replenishing organic matter, soil covered, etc.

    I have lot of things I want to share with you over the next year that may help even more to get our gardens to the peak we want.

    By the way Carole — about your lawn — a few things that may help you. Let me say right off that I just don’t pay a lot of attention to lawns because it’s all I can do to handle the gardens and borders. BUT — I do know that if you are willing to take the time and effort for a great lawn — you can have one without chemicals.

    Basically — the weeds come from problems with soil – just like problems with gardens. To improve soil you need organic matter. I heard Eliot Coleman (a well known organic grower and author — one of the modern day lights in the darkness) say that compost is THE best thing you can do for a beautiful lawn. He says to spread over the lawn in the fall. Here’s the link so you can hear and see for your self – Listen for him to talk about the lawn when it’s about half way through the 3 minute video.

    I think I’d rather spend money on compost than the chemicals. Again — remember — nothing is instant. Let us know how you do.

    Susan – Those 3 words are powerful! (Never give up!) There would be no “greats” among us to shine the light if everyone gave up. Giving up is definitely a human tendency that we have to fight against.

    Dagmar — you are to be congratulated for your efforts and various strategies! Even large growers have problems with these bugs. Organic Squash is a hard crop to get to market because of the bugs.

    I’m going to do another post when time allows that elaborates a bit more on trap crops. Basically — if you live in squash bug territory — you are going to have trouble with them.

    Thanks Virginia for the detailed comment telling us about your garden! Sounds like you are doing a great job.
    And yes – basically I don’t use even the organic sprays — but I do and will from time to time. It was good to know that pyrethin helps with the cuke beetle. (As I’m sure you already know — it also kills beneficials so caution is needed when using it.)

    I’ve read of many people using Neem with varying degrees of success. For some folks it works fantastically! I found it most interesting that you read that Neem will sterilize bugs that eat it. I thought it just killed the bugs. Sterilizing them indicates that they will be alive — but not able to reproduce.

    And yes, frustration is particularly intense for those of us who have to devote a great deal of time to making a living and the garden as well. Not easy — but doable. 🙂

    I hope other readers will express their thoughts. It’s encouraging to everyone.
    Thank you so much for taking time to comment!

  • Just a heads up on Sevin … Am in the process of helping a homeowner trap a few litters of feral kittens. Per his email today “We are now down in the number of cats. All but one of the little fluffs has died but that one seems to be doing fine and I am able to pick him up and handle him on a regular basis. Two of the older kittens have also been found dead in the yard, not sure of a cause.”

    He has been using Sevin dust to rid the cats of fleas.

  • Thanks for this info Sheri.
    More for the record: Sevin has also been seen to cause birth defects in dogs.

  • Well, I’m not temped to give up but I do understand the feeling! Until last year, squash was a great crop for me but then squash bugs took my whole crop of squash and cukes. This year things started fine and still no sign of bugs to be concerned about. I hand polinated the early flowers and things looked good but then I noticed that I did not have many female flowers. At this point I have lots of male flowers but “NO” female so things are just not going right for some reason. I’ve been careful with watering and tried some bone meal but now I’m stuck. Any ideas??

    Thanks and enjoy your garden


  • Hi Ray,
    Many times squash plants seem to produce all male flowers for a while. It’s always a little scarey because I keep wondering when I’m going to get squash — but eventually the female blossoms show up.
    All you can do is wait. 🙁

    I couldn’t figure out why you thought you needed bone meal. ?

    Thanks for taking time to comment Ray.

  • Theresa,

    I can understand Heather’s frustration.
    Yesterday I spent a LONG time picking & killing squash bugs, tearing off the part of the leaves with the eggs & bagging them to take the the trash, AND pulling up every one of my cabbage, brussel sprouts & kale to throw away because of the harlequin bug infestation.

    Did I want to give up? You bet, I did!

    But, I won’t because there is no other option.

    I’m learning from my mistakes & will use all of your tips I can, ESPECIALLY diversity, diversity diversity!

    I had the cabbage, kale & brussel sprouts all right together.

    Next year I will try to hide them among many other plants.

    Thanks to your helpful sharing of solutions, I’m a smarter gardener.


  • My thoughts are just like yours Betty: Even though I might sometimes feel like giving up “I won’t because there is no other option.” Thanks for expressing it.

  • “It doesn’t help that I have a new neighbor who does everything “wrong”. Raised beds with weed-guard fabric right on top of her lawn, which are only about 6″ and filled with mostly Home Depot bagged soil. Miracle-Gro, overhead watering with tap water, and spraying with all kinds of chemicals. But she is getting an abundant harvest of squashes and melons! I’m jealous.”

    Addressing the above comment(s),

    raised beds are a great advantage to success even with bagged soil, as not everyone has a compost pile. Yes, 2×8, approx. 7½” would be better.

    Overhead watering in the a.m. can be ok -in a full sun garden space, though I also would not recommend it.

    Spraying all kinds of chemicals also not kind to YOU, the neighbor. If more gardeners would learn the danger(s)- they’d go with an OMRI labeled product such as a Spinosad product, use diatomaceous earth, Bascillus Thurengsis, hot pepper &/or garlic sprays and Neem oil products.

    This is a great common sense info blog, but unfortunately ‘common sense’ isn’t very common.

  • Yes, I agree Randy — common sense doesn’t seem to be very common anymore — no matter what the subject.

    Regarding “raised beds”: The words have come to be synonymous with framed edge beds filled with dirt — in most cases from somewhere other than your garden.

    When I first read those words many years ago the meaning was: deeply prepared beds. By deeply preparing the soil — the beds are automatically raised. That’s how my garden is done. Most of the time you can’t tell how high the beds are because I fill in the paths up to top of the beds whenever I can. (That way they don’t dry out as quickly.)(I don’t use frames.)

    I wrote quite a bit about this in my post entitled Raised Beds – Lasagna Gardening – Soil Preparation. I also address bagged soil in that post so will not reiterate here.

    Your comment indicated that raised beds were a great advantage to success because “—-not everyone has a compost pile.” I’m not sure what you meant by that. I don’t see raised beds as being dependent on a compost pile.

    Thank you for pointing out there are many OMRI labeled products that can be used. (Many — like Spinosad and even diatomaceous earth can be harmful to beneficials and bees — so proper timing is critical.)

    Again — thanks so much for taking the time to comment.
    I hope Heather will be greatly encouraged by all who have taken the time to give words of support.

  • Thanks everyone for both relating to my frustration and encouraging me! I am sticking with organic for sure, but honestly don’t know if I will bother with squashes next year since as I said above, if I can’t be successful with them, I’ve “wasted” about 25% of the production capacity of my smallish garden. Unless I find a way to do something radically different next year. I may try digging a new bed (ugh – it is SO difficult with my rock-hard sandy soil!) so that I am starting with (hopefully) no vine borer pupae in the soil and finding a way to do row covers. Or maybe I could try grow bags or an earth box or something for a year.

    BTW Virginia Gardener, I tried planting really late this year myself, sowing seed in mid-June. It did not work at all, the borers got all but one of my 6 zucchinis and all 6 of the yellow squashes. And I had not gotten a single squash from them. At least planting early would have gotten me a few weeks of harvest. Although I do wonder if the cooler-than-normal spring we have had also caused the borers to fly later than normal? Perhaps in a more typical year this strategy might work? Who knows.

  • About organic lawns and weeds, adding to what Theresa said, I think in one of his question and answers videos Jim Putnam (horttube channel on YouTube) mentioned that he used to work with someone who handled lawns organically and supposedly the kind of weeds you get tells you something about what might be lacking in your soil, so that might be something to look into (not in his channel, he doesn’t care about lawns, I would not watch a lawn related channel, I’d get rid of the whole water hog useless thing if I could). He does always say other than compost, organic fertiliser and mulch he would not recommend adding anything to your soil without a soil test, which I think is sage advice.

    About fleas, supposedly diatomaceous earth is helpful, but as Theresa pointed out, it does kill beneficials so I personally do not use it outside. Great when you get a moth infestation inside your pantry though and in corners for cockroaches when they come in.

    About squash vine borers, I planted mine early, in new soil and compost I made (and it’s my second year trying and failing to grow squash so far, and I never added the ones killed last year by the borer to my compost bin), but the eggs are laid by a moth, so I’m sure they can fly in from a neighbour. I just lost 5 of my plants I think. They haven’t killed the tromboncino yet and I planted cucuzzi as an alternative because it’s a gourd. They killed the lemon squash and desi which were resistant to many people but not me. I kept them under a tulle cover until they started flowering because I didn’t think I would be able to pollinate them myself, due to the time commitment, and ended up not getting a single zucchini before they were killed. (The tulle idea I got from another YouTube channel, Robbie and Gary gardening easy, not for the SVB, they apparently don’t have it in California).

    As Theresa always emphasises, diversity is indeed key, both to be able to get something else when a crop fails, and also to help with pests. Honestly if I were a bug and saw a zucchini in the middle of lilies and kales and marigolds or a bed with neat rows of zucchinis I know where I’d go. And that’s pretty much all I’ve been doing. I did collect caterpillars from my brassicas when it was getting very bad and put them in the bird feeder but other than that I let diversity, nature and the beneficials and pests be. And (other than the SVB which is impossible as someone pointed out) I might lose a plant, and I do see holes in leaves, but overall my plants are healthy even though they are not in the best conditions. I unfortunately mostly cannot plant in the ground at the moment and have to make use of grow bags and containers so MUCH less than ideal conditions, but I’m mostly pleased with it other than not getting a single zucchini in 2 years.

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