Help! Squash bugs!

countrysmiths(7)June 14, 2007

My squash and pumpkins are being overun by squash bugs, so much that the plants are dying. I am afraid that once they destroy the squash they will move on to other plants. Is their anything thing I can do besides pick the bugs by hand? I would like to do it organically but would resort to "other means" if that what it takes.


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barton(z6b OK)

I think they only like squash, pumpkins, cantaloupe, cucumbers and watermelon.

If you don't have too many plants and you are diligent you can hand pick. The adult bugs are supposed to be hard to kill no matter what you spray them with.

I got really lucky and caught mine early. I cut out all the egg clusters and smashed all the bugs I could catch. The plants put out new leaves and look fine. So far. The bugs can wipe out a whole patch almost overnight.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 1:53AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Mark,

Like Gayle, I mostly rely on handpicking the bugs and drowning them in a bucket of soapy water, and I remove eggs found on the back of leaves before they can hatch.

A simple way to 'trap' the bugs is to lay down an old board or a couple of shingles on the ground near the plants. During the heat of the day, and sometimes at night too, the bugs crawl under the board or shingle to rest. Lift the board or single and squash the bugs. Check the board once in the morning and once at night. You can wipe them out pretty quickly this way as long as you are also checking the backs of the leaves and removing/destroying their eggs.

In the future, you can reduce your squash bug problem in several ways.

1) Interplant with tansy, catnip, radishes (especially the podded rat-tail ones), marigolds, beebalms, mints and nasturtiums. These plants either repel squash bugs or attract their natural predators. This method has reduced my squash bug problem to less than 10% of what it used to be.

2) Cover plants with floating row covers until the flowers appear and then uncover for pollination, or leave covered and hand pollinate. This works really well if you can anchor the row cover to keep it from blowing away in our persistent spring and summer winds.

3) Spray your plants with Surround at Home kaolin clay. It is a fairly new product and research shows it works. You have to plan ahead and have it on hand, though, because it is not easy to find unless you have a nursery that REALLY caters to the organic gardener.

4) Handpick eggs and bugs and destroy them. This is very effective. I have never seen an insecticide/pesticide, organic or synthetic, that really works on squash bugs.

5) Plant the most squash-bug resistant varieties available.
I plant about 40 kinds of summer squash, winter squash/pumpkins, and gourds a year, and there are some that are much more resistant to squash bugs. Google and you will find squash-bug resistant varieties listed in various online publications.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 8:57AM
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Thanks for the help! Some of my plants are to far gone now to save. Can I still replant summer squash now or do I need to wait and plant for a fall crop.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 9:21AM
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barton(z6b OK)

Mark, you still have plenty of time. Summer squash matures quickly. I planted some in late summer after I pulled up the tomato vines, and still got a crop.

Dawn, thanks for the tip about the interplanting. I will save the list and try it.


    Bookmark   June 15, 2007 at 1:28PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Replant now and then succession sow more every couple of weeks. By doing this you can usually harvest until the first freeze. By the time bugs find and destroy one plant, others will be coming along to replace it.

Well, that is, you can usually harvest until the first freeze unless the dreaded squash vine borers show up. Once the borers have done their evil, though, you can still replant and get summer squash. The SVBs are a short-lived pest for me, and I usually replant and do fine, but some people can't get a single ripe squash once the SVBs arrive. I think it just depends on how heavy they are in any given year.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2007 at 8:12AM
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I found a new way to get rid of Squash Bugs. A small shop vac does the trick VERY Well!

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 3:18PM
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Wow. This is ridiculous. 3 and 4 times a day I'm out there on the watermelons, pumpkins and the remaining squash plant which is now with borers and I pick of an adult squash bug or 2 with eggs and a remaining nymph every. single. time. For now, they haven't found the cukes and the luffahs.

Remember, I didn't do this last year or the year prior.

I'm getting a bit hopeless for any type of cucurbits. If I continue will I nearly eliminate the population or are theses ###terds flying from miles away?

Do I need to do a malathion spray (with hand pollination) just to start out a garden with all this? Shewt, I wouldn't use Malathion in or near the house were it not for the fiddle back spider and my kids.

I stuff my zucchini. Butternut won't cut it! I don't mind trying a different watermelon or pumpkin. I'm cool with those. But no luffah gourds? No birdhouse gourds? Wow. How pathetic is Oklahoma?

And I remember complaining about my very first squash plants 3 years ago wilting in the heat of the day. They wilted just like these with borers. I'm certain it was the SVB in my very first garden. And those were not anywhere in the same spot I have them now. And I have no nearby neighbours growing gardens. What do these ###hat SVBs bore when there's no cucurbits? What have they been eating for more than a decade without gardens around?


    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 3:11PM
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Okay. I'm over the reality of ripping up some of these plants. I've read too much. I know what to do and what not to do next year. I'll probably just not do any cucurbits, at all, unless I can squeeze some growth by a puny south facing window. As for the long-season cucurbits, that's a pipe dream.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 4:48PM
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AmyinOwasso/zone 6b

I am holding my breath, knocking wood and all other preventative superstitions. I have not seen squash bugs yet. I have seen SVBs. I sprayed bt on the stems, and I have seen a couple of leaves wilt, but so far the main stems are holding. I am growing, is it "moschata "? varieties. Fingers crossed. I also have icicle radishes going to seed, buckwheat, calendula and petunias and nasturtiums in that bed. Yellow cups with soapy water have not caught anything I recognise as a squash pest. If this doesn't work, next year they will be grown under row covers!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 6:22PM
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I planted 6 vegetable spaghetti squash. They were doing very well, now I am down to 3 plants. I have some squash bugs but I don't think there is enough to kill plants. I have never grown these before but I would have thought they would be stronger than they are.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 8:14PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bon, I'm not sure why you think the squash bugs or squash vine borers will get your luffa gourds and your birdhouse gourds. I grow birdhouse gourds every year with no problem, and have grown luffa gourds in the past with no problem. Just because squash bugs and squash vine borers are around, that doesn't mean they will attack every cucurbit around. They have their favorites that they like, and there are others they do not bother nearly as much.

You'll never be rid of them because they are mobile and travel around. Some years I have a lot of trouble with them. Some years I don't see them at all. Some years I see them, but they don't do a lot of damage. So, I just plant what I want to plant, where, when and how I want to grow it, and then I do my best to protect it from them as well as I can, organically. Some years they win and get all my summer squash. Other years they don't. About every 3rd or 4th year, I don't see any of them at all and don't lose any plants to them. In 2011, I had a totally SVB-free and squash bug-free year. That was about the only good thing I remember from that year.

Oklahoma is not at fault for having squash bugs or squash vine borers. They are found virtually everywhere, and they can survive on native cucurbits when there are no garden plants handy. We have those native cucurbits on our land, so it is likely that there were squash bugs and squash vine borers here long before we found this land, bought it and built a house on it. Yet, for the first 6 or 7 years we were here, they weren't a problem at all.

One thing to remember when raising any sort of food crop (and by food crop I mean virtually anything you grow, because whether humans eat it or not, it likely is a food crop for something) is that insects, bugs, animals, etc. are going to find and eat what they want and need because it is a matter of survival for them. I just plant oodles of plants so that even if they kill half of them or 3/4s of them, we'll have enough left for us too.

Don't give up and don't let them defeat you. I grow cucurbits all summer long and all autumn most years and they still are producing when frost hits them, so I know it can be done, and it can be done organically. You just have to be persistent about protecting them and about fighting the pests hard every single day. I succession sow cucurbits constantly. At some point the squash bugs or SVBs will leave or will be preyed upon by something and I'll manage to get a cucurbit harvest for us. They never bother my cucumbers, Armenian cucumbers, muskmelons, watermelons or any of the C. moschata types of squash that I grow. It is important to choose varieties that are not known to be bothered as much by them. I can grow yellow straightneck and crookneck squash most summers, and some varieties of zucchini for at least a portion of the year, although they'll eventually get it. I just sow more seeds and carry on.

If gardening were easy, everyone would do it and every yard would be a virtual Garden of Eden. Gardening is very hard work. You have to be persistent (as in hard-headed) and willing to engage in trench warfare with the pests. I like the challenge of managing to get a crop despite their efforts to destroy it. It makes the flowers even more beautiful and the herbs and food crops taste even better when I have "earned" that harvest by overcoming all the pest and disease challenges.

Don't let the pests get into your head and take all the fun out of gardening. Look at it realistically. They need to eat. Your garden has food. It is easy to see the attraction. Your job is to interfere in the process that lets them take what they want from your garden.

Growing under row covers or even tulle netting or cheesecloth can make a huge difference.

Amy, I've seen both and for quite some time, but so far they haven't killed any plants. Usually they don't get around to the killing until the end of June through mid-July, and then I just succession sow a new crop and move on.

Plants in the C. moschata family tolerate a lot of pest damage and have good disease tolerance, and for me they produce all year until frost gets them. They have become my favorites simply because they are the easiest to keep alive. I still grow some summer squash plants that aren't C. moschatas because we like to eat them, but I plant them knowing that at some point, we'll likely lose them....and I just make sure I have extra seeds to sow after the first round of plants dies.

One way to make all vining squash more tolerant of damage from SVBs is to heap up soil over the vines every few feet. The part of the vine you bury will root into the ground there. If you get it rooting into the ground in multiple locations, then sometimes only one section dies when an SVB tunnels into it but the rest survives because it is rooted into the ground in multiple places.

Larry, Spaghetti squash is C. pepo and SVBs do like C. pepo varieties, but they like C. maximas more. Sometimes I can grow the C. pepo types of squash by planting C. moschata types first and letting them grow for a month or more, and then by coming back and planting my C. pepo in the middle of a lot of C. moschatas. I think that once the C. moschatas are big and running rampant, the C. pepo types can sort of hide in the midst of all their foliage. It isn't foolproof, but it does work sometimes.

The only place I've found squash bugs so far is on my yellow crookneck squash. I keep killing them and more and more keep showing up. They haven't bothered the yellow straightneck (although I'm sure they will), or any of the C. moschatas that I am growing (butternut, Seminole regular size, Seminole large fruited size, Trombocino, tan cheese pumpkin and Musquee de Provence). For fun this year, I don't have row covers over any of the squash, which is a decision I'm sure to regret at some point. Row covers work well, but can be a challenge to keep in place in windy weather.


    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 12:25AM
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Dawn, I appreciate you going over and over this issue. Even before surgery I sat and read your posts when gardeners come online screaming about them in earl summer. I even read about them on other gardenweb garden sites and, then, some internet sites. That's where I read about any cucurbits being favored by SB and/or SVB. I don't have any reason, yet, to believe they'll come after my watermelons (or muskmelons), luffahs and cucurbits based on their behavior, but I'm exasperated sufficiently, today, to stretch my negative imaginings. I've already forfeited a commitment to the kids to squeeze in a nap. That helped. I forget the heat is hard. I suspect nightmares of giant squash bugs are around the bend. LOL

But I have space! And succession plantings is highly doable. I'll just take it one plant at a time and if it's too much for me physically, I'll yank them before they infest. Heck, even if I get 1, maybe 2 squash off each plant by the time SVB borers take over, that'll be rewarding. (When I'm positive there is a borer I dig it up and toss it in the trash.)

And you just mentioned (probably, again) burying the roots on the vines. Well, my pumpkin under attack revealed some tiny roots on the vines. At least this Old Timey variety grows like mad. I'll bury the vines like mad. Thanks for that. The kids really want pumpkins. The squash or the luffahs? Meh. Bill wants the spoon and birdhouse gourds so he can be sentry for those. lol

Needing to fix my frustration he brainstormed ideas to cover all these and even made unrealistic commitments to building a greenhouse. Thanks for mentioning the cheesecloth. For now, some type of cheap material is the only option. We do have materials for constructs, otherwise.

While we're on the motivational bend, I remember 2011 being an exceptionally blessed tomato harvest for you and most others, including me and my bumper crop of marble-sized tomatoes. We both can relate to that year's horror, but merely reading of your daily canning routine in June and July 2011 exhausted me. ha! And when you weren't canning, saucing and doing the salsa, you were watering and feeding the firefighters.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 1:31AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bon, When you are positive it is a borer (look for the sawdust-like material at base of plant where they've bored into the stem), you can just carefully slit open the stem, removed the grub, push the stem back together, lay it on the ground, and heap up soil on top of the cut area. With luck the plant will recover.

Hmmm. I don;t think it was 2011 that was awesome---I think it was 2012. Or, maybe my memory is fading as I age. : ) 2011 was only great, harvest-wise, early in the season. In 2012 I canned like our lives depended on it. I canned day and night and then night and day. I canned until I couldn't can any more. What made 2012 so great? Our last freeze/frost was in early March, and I had put the first tomato plants in a gigantic (non-movable) container in late February. Having a 2012 (or a 2010) every now and then makes the awful hot, dry years more bearable.

I canned the first five batches of salsa today. I worked in the garden early, killed 5 squash bugs, removed eggs from almost every leaf on that plant. hand-watered containers, and then picked tomatoes and peppers. By the time I came inside to begin the canning, I was feeling a little tired already. By the time I finished canning, I was really tired. Our house smelled like salsa, though, and it was such a heavenly aroma. June is when all that spring work, all the covering and uncovering of plants to protect them from late cold, etc., really pays off. I likely will spend at least half of every day this week just putting up the harvest, which is okay, because it is too hot to spend the whole day in the yard and garden.

Tomorrow I'll check for squash bugs again, and then I need to tackle the grasshoppers. It probably would be easier to just pack up and move someplace where the grasshoppers are not so heavy. I've only seen one or two SVB moths this year, but no damage to plants yet. It makes me wonder why. I'm not so naive that I think a SVB moth was flying around the garden and not laying eggs. What would be the point of that?

Our firefighters deserve every thing we do for them. They work so hard to keep us all safe, and it is both an honor and a privilege to help them in some small way. I love canning and I love helping our firefighters, but if a fire breaks out while I am in the middle of canning multiple batches, those firefighters are on their own. There's not many things you simply cannot drop and then come back and finish later, but to me, canning is one of those things. Once I'm ready to put food in jars and to put jars in the canner, nothing is going to interfere with that. There's so much prep work involved that once I have started it, I don't want to drop it.

You would have thought we didn't have any salsa here at all until I made that first batch today. Chris wanted fresh salsa so desperately that he couldn't wait for it to cool. He put it in a bowl and put ice cubes in the bowl to cool it off. I was laughing. He said the ice cubes made it runny, but it still was good. I think the aroma of the salsa in the air just made him crave it.

Dinner was late because I wasn't finished with the canning until almost 8 pm, and then for dinner we had BLT sandwiches with the first Black Krim tomato and with what is likely the last of our lettuce that I've had growing in tubs in a mostly shady area. It is in the process of bolting and I thought it would be too bitter, but Tim harvested it and we ate it anyhow.

Stink bugs are showing up now in greater numbers than the squash bugs, but then I have been staying on top of the squash bug population pretty consistently. Stink bugs are harder to catch and kill. The green ones sit on green tomatoes and blend in, and even the brown ones can be hard to spot. They move quickly so they're hard to get and will crawl behind or under leaves to hide. The leaf-footed bugs.haven't shown up in great numbers yet, but just a few can do a lot of damage.

I try to ignore the pest bugs to the extend that I can, but I learned long ago that if I ignored stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs, the tomato crop suffers horribly. Other pests that alarm me? Squash bugs, always, and SVBs, though I often see them without actually having damage from them. Grasshoppers are only a problem when they are present in large numbers, as they are this year. Blister beetles haven't been too bad the last couple of years, so they likely are going to be bad this year. With many pests the population cycles up and down and you don't have problems with the same major pests every year. I'm seeing lots of ground beetles out and about in the garden, and they are beneficial, so that's good. I haven't even seen a snake in two days now, but I've had one rattle at me twice. It was deep in foliage and I couldn't find it, so just made a note to not stick my hand into that foliage any time soon.

My garden is so full of insects that it isn't even funny, but when it comes right down to it, I bet only about 2-5% of the pests I see are causing significant damage. Unfortunately, those few can cause a lot of damage.


    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 2:12AM
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You're probably right that it was 2012 because that is the exact description I remember. lol And everything was new to me and I wondered if I would ever do all that. That was before I knew what was wrong with me and before I got to a time everything stopped. Heck, it stopped way before my mind did, I just couldn't accept it. Then, I had surgery. Back then, I didn't understand the personalization of raising food, preparing it to our own needs and doing everything within our own needs. I don't need a hundred tomato plants as much as I need 100 garbanzo bean plants and 40 broccoli plants...and gobs of bell peppers. Funny when I think back on it. The garbanzos grow well, but I've yet to grow them at the right time and place, but they grow! I've yet to succeed on any of this but gaining ground.

Without a doubt, it's the SVB. It's been a couple weeks when it was "iffy". Now it's obvious. I'll try splicing, digging and burying. And see if that helps.

I bet your salsa is delish as well as anything else you prepare. I was looking up recipes for something yesterday. those I found called for store-bought tomato soup or cream of mushroom soups. And I just thought 'gross' because fresh and fresh prepared is so much better. I still use cream of mushroom soup for some things, but would rather make my own. At this point I can only imagine the taste of fresh from home-grown tomato pastes and sauces. I mean, wow.. I love to make chipatas, a plain flat bread, and I could probably pig out on your salsa or one of my fried tomato dishes with chipatas. I'm like Tim. When I get the whiff of something it kick starts the cravings and impatience takes over. hehe He's very blessed.

Not much longer and those first black maur are MINE. ha Just like yours it was the tomato vines where I found the stink bugs.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 8:32AM
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AmyinOwasso/zone 6b

Thirty plus years ago, during what my family calls my "earth mother" phase, I covered the back yard with black plastic covered with hay and planted a big garden. I bit off way more than I could chew. I believe we used hay for mulch, instead of straw. You can imagine the bermuda poking through and the weeds from the hay. It was one of those wretchedly hot summers. I was out in the garden in 100+ heat, trying to kill SVB larva by slitting and poking. I even got some siringes and injected bt into infected stems. I don't remember if I actually got squash or not. It was too hot and the soil was not good enough to get much of anything that year. It burned me out on squash until last year when the SVBs got my whole crop again.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 10:34AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bon, You'd need to plant garbanzo beans in OK around the same time you plant snap peas or shelling peas. It would be best to start them indoors the same way Dorothy and I start our sugar snaps indoors because that would give you a 2-3 week jump on the growing season. Unfortunately, garbanzo beans take about a month longer than snap peas to produce pods of legumes, so your harvest still would be at the mercy of the weather. Still in a year when the last frost is early and you could get an extra-early start on the garbanzos, they might have a chance to produce. Unfortunately, they do not produce as heavily as peas do, per plant, so it would take a lot of plants.

It takes time to succeed with gardening, but you learn more every day and get better and better at it over time. I started out decades ago with tomatoes, peppers, squash, lettuce and watermelons in a tiny backyard garden, and didn't add anything else until I had mastered those. Of course, my dad was a gardener as were many friends and relatives, so I'd been around it all my life which significantly shortened the learning curve.

Actually, I've been thinking about that a lot lately---how much it helps if you had exposure to gardening as a child or young adult versus how little you know if you never were exposed to any of that and then you decided to plant your first garden. Seeing what new gardeners go through in terms of trying to figure out what to plant, how much to plant, etc. reminds me how lucky I was to see it when I was growing up.

I will tell you a brief story that illustrates this, and I swear I am not laughing at this would-be gardener because there's not necessarily any way he would have know how corn grows: Because we give Christmas gift bags of canned goods (2-4 jars per bag depending on how good of a harvest year we had) to TIm's coworkers (125-150 people per year) and have done so for years, a lot of them have become intrigued with gardening and want to grow their own food and maybe learn to can it. They always come to Tim at work in spring or summer, full of plans and ideas, and with cell phone photos of their young gardens. Lacking experience, most plant too many plants too close together in too small of a space, but they learn from it and get better ever year. Recently one of those people was telling Tim all about his family's new garden and describing what they had planted, and his description left Tim speechless. They planted 1 corn plant. One. Tim had to break the news to him that one corn plant wouldn't feed a family. I kinda chuckled, but then thought about it and wondered if he thought it would grow like an apple tree and produce a whole lot of corn? What would a person think if they'd never grown anything before? How would they know you need a lot of corn plants to get a lot of corn and that the smallest number that might produce ears with good tip fill would be 4 plants, planted in a block, not in a straight row. It sure makes me grateful that I grew up around gardening so I had some sort of a clue.

The folks at work consider Tim a garden expert even though he isn't even a gardener. (grin) He has learned a lot by osmosis, and he usually can answer their questions correctly, though he'll check with me on anything he's not sure of (and, increasingly, there's not many garden questions he is unsure of any more). They show him photos of their garden, and every now and then he'll show them photos on his cell phone that he took in our garden.

The other day, I was stripping lower foliage with early blight off a Pruden's Purple tomato plant and uncovered an immense clump of very large green tomatoes. There were 3 or 4 that were really big and then others in various sizes. I shot a photo and sent it to Tim. (Until I stripped that foliage, you couldn't even tell the plant had set any fruit....and I don't like to stick my hands into dense foliage to check and see for fear of being snakebit.) Tim forwarded the photo to a fairly new gardener at work who has had a garden for a while now and is getting pretty good at growing, and he texted back and said something like "Oh, so you grow your pumpkins vertically." I thought that was hysterical. Tim told him they weren't pumpkins, but were big, green tomatoes. I was rolling on the ground laughing. But, you know, I do grow pumpkins vertically---it is just that those tomatoes weren't pumpkins. And, to be fair to that guy, those green tomatoes had a very oblate shape and could have resembled something like Cinderella pumpkins.

Amy, I often use hay for mulch because old, spoiled hay is available, although I use it much less often than I used to because of the issues with herbicide carryover in mulch, compost and manure. However, I put a barrier (always) between the hay and the soil---sometimes it is weed block fabric, but more often it is cardboard or newspaper because they attract earthworms. Do I get more weeds than I would if I used straw? Sure I do, but the hay is free and straw is not---and the straw that is available usually is mixed with manure from horse or cow barns so I avoid it because of herbicide carryover. I just yank out weeds while tiny.

I get the best results from summer squash plants that I plant early in spring and late in summer. The SVBs target the mid-summer ones too much. I'm a great gardener and keep up on weeding, mulching, etc. as long as the weather is nice. Once we start hitting the 100s? I become great at avoiding the garden in the heat. I run out there early in the morning, do the harvesting, and run indoors to escape the heat. That's when the pests and weeds start gaining the upper hand, but by then I am too hot to care. I'll go out in the evenings again if the weather is cooling off while we still have daylight.

Generally this means that in fall, I have a lot of weeds to clear out, but I don't care. The older I get, the less I like being out in the heat of the day if I absolutely, positively don't have to be out there.


    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 12:53PM
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