City Seedling: Who Ate My Pumpkin? Adventures in Pest Management, Part I

I haven’t always had the best luck with vegetables in my community garden plot. There have been disappointing pepper yields, frustrating tomato thefts, and bolting broccoli. This year, I wanted to find something new to try.

So in my quest to find new crops at the garden center, I came across a little pumpkin plant. “Pumpkins!” I squealed. How lovely. How magical. I plopped the plant into the corner of my plot and watched it unfurl like the enchanted one in Cinderella. I soon had a ten foot vine covered in blossoms. Weeks went by, blossoms fell off, but no fruit was forming. Hmm. Maybe it had been too hot? New blossoms formed and fell off again. Maybe it had been too rainy? I went on vacation, and my plot was neglected for a little while. When I came back, my lovely little pumpkin plant looked like this:

The bottom portion was rotting, completely dried out in some spots, and COVERED in roly polies. But they weren’t the ones at fault. (They are attracted to rotting plant material, which is why you see them when you turn over an old piece of wood.)

The strange thing was, my whole pumpkin plant wasn’t dead. Farther down on the vine, there appeared to be nothing wrong. Leaves were happy and green, and new flowers were opening. I backed away from the teeming pile of roly polies and went home to do some research.

I remember someone in the area cautioning against Squash Vine Borers, so I immediately looked them up. The telltale sign is plant destruction starting at the base and moving upward. The little larvae burrow into the stem, and then eat the plant from the inside out. Another sign is the yellow frass (frass: an adorable word for poop) they leave behind. I didn’t see any of that, but I felt sure that the borers were the problem…

What will happen to the pumpkin? Will it survive the attack? Will Emily win the coming Insect War? Come back next week and read Pest Management, Part II: Electric Boogaloo for the startling conclusion.

Emily Helck

a lifelong New Jersey resident who moved to Jersey City in 2006. She earned an MA in English and writing from Fordham University. In addition to blogging about gardening in the city, her personal blog RTONJ is about being a young adult with cancer. She lives downtown with a dog, two cats, and her husband.