Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Beetlemania: Keeping up with the pest invasion
I have to admit that I struggle to keep up with the latest crazes. For example, while the rest of the world is pre-occupied with something called Pokemon Go, I am mired in Beetlemania. It's not their melodies which hold my attention; rather it's their dining habits. That includes Colorado potato beetle munching on the foliage of my potatoes and eggplants, cucumber beetle on cucumbers, summer squash, and melons, Mexican bean beetle on beans, asparagus beetle on asparagus, and the less selective harlequin beetle, Asiatic garden beetle, Oriental beetle, and Japanese beetle feasting on just about every fruit and vegetable intended to be a mainstay of my family's diet.
The first option in my attempt to limit their eating habits is the pluck and plop technique, otherwise known as handpicking. All of these beetles are large enough that they can easily be plucked and plopped into a container of soapy water. Morning is the best time to handpick since beetles are lethargic and less alert in the early dawn. Interestingly, I've noticed that Japanese beetles engaged in mating or a behavior called mate guarding, will drop from their perch on leaves when disturbed rather than fly off. As such, I merely hold my container beneath them, touch the leaf which they occupy ... and plop, that ends what could have been a beautiful relationship.
Another tactic for general beetle control is to spray plants with an organic insecticide, preferably pyrethin, neem oil or spinosad, the latter material being most effective on beetles with leaf-eating larvae, e.g. asparagus beetle, potato beetle and bean beetle. All of these materials break down quickly and have to be re-applied regularly at intervals of 7 to 10 days. For specifics, read and follow the directions on the product label.
This week's tasks
For specifics on this week's tasks, read and follow these directions:
• Don't water lawns unless you can keep it up on a weekly basis. A "when-I-think-about-it" approach to watering lawns can do more harm to grass than letting it go dormant during hot, dry weather. With the frequency of thunder showers increasing lately, this may become a moot point.
• Leave the base of the plants intact when harvesting bok choy and heads of cabbage, including Chinese or Napa cabbage. New shoots should arise from the base of these plants, much the same as side buds develop on broccoli after the main head has been harvested. Since the plants have a strong root system, new shoots will develop rapidly. To get a larger head, trim off all but one of these new shoots. However, if you let several shoots remain, the plant will still produce new, but smaller, heads.
• Snip off the flower buds from the shoots of herbs. While you're at it, snip some sprigs of rosemary. Fresh rosemary adds a delightful flavor to roasted vegetables drizzled with a small amount of olive oil. The stems, with leaves removed, can be used as skewers when grilling meats or vegetables.
• Watch out for wasp nests when working or playing outdoors. They can occur in the most unexpected places. If wasps pose a danger to you or (many people are allergic to the wasp stings), wait until dark and then spray the nests with some type of wasp and hornet control product. On the other hand, most wasps, including yellow jackets, consume many of the pest insects which invade our gardens at this time of year. If wasps pose no problem, leave them be. However, all bets are off in late summer when yellow jackets shift their diet to sugars, including items on your picnic menu.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.