Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
The Happy Homesteader
Well, for most of us gardeners, around this time of year we begin to include the daily garden chore of bug hunting. For me it includes a small bucket with a couple of inches of soapy water in the bottom and my gardening gloves because I hate touching bugs! I go out first thing in the morning because that is when I can find the most pests. I go down the veggie garden and each time I see a bug that is bothering my plants I simply knock it into the soapy water. The soap coats their wings so they can't fly out. When I'm done I can feed these bugs to the chickens. I have found that this daily chore keeps the pests down to a number that does not effect my garden.
When I first started the garden, this was not the case. I was bombarded with every pesky bug imaginable and always wondered how they found me! Even the daily chore of bug hunting couldn't get enough to stop them from eating my plants. By the third year the soil had improved greatly and I added an extra thick layer of compost in the beds. Wow! What a difference! From then on the pests have been so minimal that I can easily keep them under control. The good layer of compost has given the plants all of the nutrition they need to be strong and healthy. These strong and healthy plants are able to defend themselves. Weak plants will send a signal to the bugs that they are vulnerable and therefore get attacked. I have found that top dressing the soil with some worm castings or spraying a foliar fertilizer such as fish emulsion on a weak plant that is under attack has helped it to get strong and keep the bugs at bay all by themselves making my bug hunting job a lot easier.
At first I didn't know the good bugs from the bad bugs, so I got the book Good Bug, Bad Bug for an easy to read and very visual guide. Here is my bug hunting top 10 most wanted listed:
Some people call these stink bugs because when you squish them they give off an unpleasant odor. It's amazing how they can find a squash transplant that is just two inches tall! You will usually find them on the under side of the plant's leaves or at the base of the stem during the heat of the day, but in the cool morning they roam about the plant laying eggs. Even if you miss the adult bugs, you'll see their eggs if you look over the leaves. The adults don't really hurt the plant, but they will multiply fast and their offspring will feed on the plant until it dies. Keeping the eggs under control is the easiest way to ensure a smaller population. A couple of tricks are taking a strip of duct tape and rolling it around your fingers. When you see eggs, just pull them off with the tape then throw the tape away! You can also tear off the part of the leaf with the eggs and add it to your chicken food bucket. For the adults, try laying a piece of wood at the base of the plant. They will go here for cover and first thing each morning you can flip the board over to find a whole bunch of adult squash bugs to eradicate.
Don't be fooled! These little buggers have the strategy of looking like lady bugs so you think they might be good, but really they will kill your plants usually by spreading bacterial wilt. They come in either pinkish/red or yellow and you can tell the difference from lady bugs because they have no white on their head and also have a predictable spot pattern of 6 spots on each wing. They also come in stripes which won't fool you into thinking they are lady bugs. They fly fast so when you spot them be quick about knocking them into your soapy water. Holding the pail underneath them and then knocking the plant leaf so they fall into the water works pretty well. They are really attracted to the color yellow so you will often find them inside flowers like cucumber and squash blossoms. A trick is to hang yellow sticky traps around the edges of your garden to catch as many as you can. You can make your own by painting wooden stakes yellow and coating them with Tangle Foot, which is basically a glue that won't dry that you can buy online or at some garden stores. I've also heard of boiling equal parts of corn syrup and water for a sticky substance you can paint on the trap.
Never fail, around here as soon as June 1st rolls around the grape vines will be covered with Japanese Beetles. Luckily they are big bugs that are easy to see and slow enough to catch. Knocking them into soapy water is the best way that I've found. They fall straight down and land with a plunk so be sure to hold your pail directly underneath them and knock the leaf hard. These pests can eat up a plant in a single day and leave nothing but lace-like leaves, so check for them every morning. The good news is that they don't have a long season (at least around here) so after a few weeks they are gone and I don't have to worry about them until next year!
These are fairly small so they aren't always easy to see, but you'll see their evidence for sure. They eat tiny holes all over the plant's leaves. The bugs themselves are not really possible to catch, but when I see them I give the plant a good shake or spray with a garden hose to dislodge them. They'll probably come back, but a good spray keeps their damage to a minimum. They really like eggplant and don't kill the plants, but will stunt their growth. I have found that once the plants get big and strong, then the flea beetles are no longer a match for them. If I'm really concerned about them then a daily dusting with diatomaceous earth does the trick.
Beautiful to look at, but dangerous to your plants! They will literally suck the life right out of them. They feed by sucking the sap out and soon your plant will wilt and die. If you miss the bugs, then you'll see their evidence of feeding by brown spots on your leaves. These are big bugs that are easy to see though so check at all times of day to diagnose the culprit. They are a good candidate for the soapy water bucket. Check the plants over for their interesting black and white eggs as well to really control the population.
As the name implies, you'll most likely find these pests on bean plants of just about any variety although there are some resistant varieties if you find they are a real problem in your area. Again, don't be fooled into thinking this is a pale orange lady bug. While it is the same shape and has black spots, it's color is more orange and does not have white on it's head. Their larvae are unmistakable however. They remind me of orange spiky sea urchins! The splat of yellow eggs on a leaf are also a clear give away that your plant is under attack.
"Oh look at all of the pretty white butterflies in my garden!" Whoops! I was wrong to think that when I first started gardening because these aren't butterflies at all. They are cabbage moths and were busy laying eggs on my plants that hatched into foliage devouring fat green worms! When these moths come, they usually come in fairly large numbers so it's not uncommon to see 4-5 flying around a section of preferred plants in the middle of the day. You won't notice their eggs as they lay just one at a time, but believe me, one is all it takes to kill a plant. The egg will hatch into a small green worm that you might not notice. As it feeds it grows bigger and bigger until it is easily seen as a fat green worm leaving lots of holes in your plants. Usually before I see the worm I can see the evidence of their prodigious feeding in the form of little round dark green balls (worm poop). As the name implies, they love cabbage, but will devour just about any plant in the brassica family. You can't really hunt these, but a daily dusting of diatomaceous earth will kill the worms as they hatch. Another option if you know they are common in your garden is to put fabric row covers over the vulnerable plants as soon as you plant them out. The vegetables they attack don't require outside pollination so it's fine to leave them covered all the way until harvest.
These look uglier and uglier at they grow on your plants! They are mostly found on tomatoes, but could also effect eggplant and potatoes. They start as a quite small brown caterpillar with a green line down it's back, but as they feed they get fat and gross. In the early stages you might see brown tunnels in the plant's leaves and wonder what is doing that. Then part of their life is spent in the soil and so you will continue to search for the culprit to no avail. Soon enough though, they will crawl up the plant and begin to feed. Unfortunately, they can live a long time which will do a lot of damage to both the foliage and fruit of your tomato plants. When the worms are fat you can grab the off and make a chicken very happy, but even the small worms will hurt your harvest and these are often difficult to see especially because they like to hide in folded and curled leaves. A daily dusting of diatomaceous earth will kill the small worms as soon as they begin to crawl up your plant so that they never get to the fat worm stage.
These are so amazing to look at that I barely want to kill them. Couple that with the fact that when you pick one up it shoots out a scary orange spike and you'll see why I really hate to go near them. For being such a large pest you'll be amazed at how they blend into your tomato plants. Most likely you'll see their damage before you see them. Scan your tomato plants for worm poop and look at the growing tips of the plants to see if the leaves have been eaten off. These worms eat a lot so it is easier to see just a stem sticking up at the growth end of a branch with all of it's leaves missing rather than the green hornworm which blends right in. Once you see the damage you can be assured that there is a hornworm somewhere nearby. Look slowly and closely in order to find them. Once you do, grab it firmly because they will grip the stem pretty good and toss it into your bucket.
I have only ever seen these on potatoes and common nightshade that grows in the pastures, but they can effect all nightshade plants including things like eggplant. The larvae start off quite small and look like bright orange dots with black heads. As they grow they are much easier to see and easier to pick off. Get as many as you can off because they will defoliate a plant quickly. The adults have a typical beetle shape with off-white and black stripes. These are fairly easy to knock into a bucket of soapy water and if you do it each morning then you will stop them before they lay enough eggs to hatch and hurt your plants.
The University of Florida's Department of Entomology has a very thorough list of common pests on their Featured Creatures page. You can click on any of the pest above to see their description along with pictures of each life stage for identification. What garden pests are common in your area?
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