Managing beetles in the organic garden

Managing beetles in the organic garden

If you miss the chance to take preventative action, such as in applying neem oil to the leaves and stems of your tomato plants–all in not lost.  In the organic garden, keeping up with the pests who would make a meal of your crops is a never-ending chore.  I go to great lengths to avoid having to cause harm to another living creature–that’s why I utilize companion planting, crop rotation, and practice tolerance of other species.  Even still, at times when nature threatens to overtake the food I’ve grown for human consumption, leaving me with nothing, I must take action.  To avoid injustice to the innocent, I take measures to reduce the numbers of only the troublesome population.

potatoes and green beansThese are my “Purple Majesty” potatoes.  I plant green beans alongside the potatoes for two reasons.  Firstly, the beans help fix nitrogen in the soil, and since potatoes are heavy nitrogen feeders this is a happy relationship between the crops.  Secondly, the bean plants act as a diversion to insects who would make a meal of my potatoes–instead of eating the potato plants, they find the leaves of the bean plant more tasty.  At least–that’s what’s supposed to happen….in all of the other potato-beds, that is exactly the case–the insects are preferring the beans to the potatoes.  But not so with these purple potatoes.

By using methods of biological control, I can target the problem pest, and reduce their numbers to an acceptable threshold.

potato beetle larvae diagram

potato beetle larvae


These are the larvae of the Colorado Potato Beetle–check out that link for more info.  ….apparently they’ll go through four moultings before they look like their parents–the domed-shelled yellow and black striped beetles.  Before that they look like this–soft-shelled, slug-like larvae.  Really rather revolting–and this coming from someone who appreciates the larvae form of Apis mellifera (the European honeybee)–please note, I said “appreciates” not “finds adorable”.  Somehow, insect larvae does not pass all boundaries of maternal instinct.  Still, even the larvae of the potato beetle is a living being, and it is difficult for me to take the life of any living thing–but a necessary fact of this circle of life.  I gotta feed my family.

potato beetle larvae destruction

I pick off the larger slug-larvae, attempt to suppress a shudder-ultimately fail–and drop it into the mason jar of soapy water.  On leaves where the more-recently hatched slug-larvae are congregating, I pick off the entire leaf, using my thumb-nail to slice the stem of the leaf cleanly, to reduce chances of infection or introduction of disease to the plant.  Sometimes the larvae are all over the tip of a branch, clustered on two or three leaves, and I take the entire thing and stuff it into my jar–cringing.

Now to maintain the vigil.

An interesting note:  the only potatoes seemingly afflicted by the beetles is the Purple Majesty variety.  I’m not sure if we somehow missed that bed when we were picking beetles and squishing fat orange beetle-eggs, or if for some reason the beetles really like the purple variety, but I maintain vigilance anyway of the other three beds of potatoes-along with the potato towers.  As of yet, there are no disgusting slug-larvae to be seen.

Biological control is just one of the different tactics used in Integrated Pest Management (IPM).  Prevention is another.  To learn more about IPM check out this resource from the Cooperative Extension System.

Integrated Pest Management supplied by the eXtension

How to Use Neem Oil to Prevent Garden Pests – from Mother Earth News.


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Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm