The beetles are coming! the beetles are coming!

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Now that the  bulk of the spring planting is behind us, I’ve turned my eye to the up-keep of the gardens.  That includes all of the weeding that comes with gardening, as well as combating the insects that would make a meal of my tender seedlings and vegetables.  With the arrival of the summertime heat comes the onslaught of the beetles.  Within 48 hours of transplanting my vining crops (cucumbers, squashes, melons, and pumpkins) the cucumber beetles had discovered the veritable feast I’d laid out for them.cucumber beetles

Now in order to protect my crops as they establish themselves, I perform a twice-daily check for cucumber beetles, and squish any offending intruders between my fingers with a slight cringe.  They call this biological control–managing crop-pests without chemicals; as an individual who finds value in all life-forms I find it difficult to kill any creature, but as a farmer I need to protect my investment.  Cucumber beetles are most active early in the morning, so I try to get outside between 8 and 9 am to move through the gardens, and again later in the afternoon or in the evening.

Usually when I make my rounds through the gardens I’m looking for possible problems with the plants, whether it’s an insect infestation, fungal disease, watering issue, or nutrient deficiency.  And the recent trouble with the cucumber beetles reminded me of the up-coming battle against the Japanese beetles.

Two years ago a heavy infestation nearly decimated the green beans growing up my bean tee-pee, and no matter what the advertisers say–those beetle traps do nothing except entice the bugs into your yard with the alluring pheromones designed with beetles in mind.

evening primroseBut last year I kept a smaller garden, and as a result I left a lot of native plants (aka-weeds) growing in and among my crops.  One of these plants towered above the rest, with it’s spike of yellow flowers reaching nearly five feet at the corner of one of my raised garden beds.  At first I wasn’t sure what it was, as a gardener who practices companion planting this happens to me from time to time.  I’m learning, and I now know a good many plants as young seedlings, but every year there are a few that I don’t recognize in their infancy.  What I sometimes do in that instance is to leave it be–at least one or two of these suspect seedlings, until they reach a point where I can recognize them for who and what they are, and then they will either be allowed to stay, or they will be evicted from their lodgings among my crops.

This happened to me last year.  I had never seen this plant before in my life–and if I had, I had never paid it any attention.   It was off the corner of one of the beds–and other than the possibility of it shading some of the tomatoes that were planted in that bed last year, it didn’t appear as though it would harm anything.  So I left it.  The spike grew and grew, and I watch anxiously as it started to swell with flower buds.  And it was about that time that the Japanese beetles made their seasonal appearance.

beetles on evening primrose

japanese beetles on evening primroseI think I would have noticed the beetles sooner if they had been decimating my crops.  In the past I have had a lot of trouble with the beetles dining on my beans and kale, it seems they have a preference for those crops.  But with the primrose in residence the majority of the beetles were diverted.  I had to look up this previously unknown-to-me native plant.

The Evening Primrose is native to North and South America (see also Common Evening Primrose), with a number of related species in the same family.  It seems primrose is something the beetles love even more than beans and kale, and while the beetles chewed holes in the leaves and practiced their skills of reproduction upon it’s towering spike of yellow flowers, the plant itself survived in good health and my beans remained relatively unscathed.

So this year, as the annual threat of the beetles approaches, I recalled this all-natural beetle-diversion and was dismayed to find nary a towering spike in the garden.  I worried that I had unwittingly pulled out all of the seedlings during one of my weeding-frenzies, so I had to look the plant up once again.  Thank goodness I had thought to take pictures of the thing last year!

I couldn’t even remember the name of this magnificent plant, but after a few false-starts it came to me, and I soon discovered that the Evening Primrose is….a biennial.

*Sigh*

The good news is that I had not pulled all the rosettes during weeding.  And now I can recognize them on-sight.  I will even be sure to mark them with orange tape, so that come next spring I know who and what they are.  But that will not help me this year.  This year the beetles are on the way, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I am going to be continuing with my twice-daily pest-management routine.

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