Monday, February 28, 2011

Preparing for Pests 2011 : The first wave

Obviously it's early for this post, but it always surprises me how early insecty-buggy-pests show up on my plants.

We have a lot of wild mustard and garlic mustard around so it's never a wonder when I look out to see tens of pale little butterflies (moths, actually) flitting around the yard. It's also not a huge surprise when the cucumber beetles arrive and render my poor cucurbits pretty much sterile. What is surprising is when I wander around the side of the yard and find my currant bushes skeletonized by sawflies, or when I head out to check on my young tomato plants only to find them chewed to nothing by hornworms.

Whether they launch surprise massacres, or waves and waves of foreseen attacks, pests are definitely present yearly in my garden. Last year I lost a lot of plants to so this year I mean to prepare early. I'm going to outline what it is I plan to do for each of these little guys and their onslaught of destruction. Below are some of the critters that wreak havoc on the spring vegetable garden. The earliest of pests: The first wave, sort of.

Cabbage Loopers are usually the worst of my very early spring pests. The little moths dance around the yard and it never occurs to me in time that they're laying eggs for their pesky little worms. These little green worms pack a mean punch to any young brassica, including cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts. Since I intend to grow all three of these delicious plants this spring I will be using some sort of cover for these plants. The great thing about brassica is that they are true vegetables, meaning we eat the plant parts regardless of fertilization and not the fruits, so I can cover them completely and let them grow without worrying about giving access to pollinators. I'll be attempting to use Tulle instead of commercial row covers. I was originally going to make yellow underskirts for my bridesmaids last fall and when the time crunch came I abandoned the project. This wasn't before purchasing 80+ yards of yellow tulle at discounted prices though, so I'm happy to have a purpose for it in the garden this year.

Flea Beetles are pretty impossible to avoid in this area of the state. Even if you don't have a garden in southern Michigan, it's a safe bet that each and every dicotyledon is peppered with the tiny round holes that are the telltale sign of flea beetles. Until this year, they haven't bothered me much since I've been growing things primarily for my own use. This year however I'm going to attempt to grow for market and unfortunately that means I've got to attempt to do something about them. One thing I mean to try this year is planting radishes as a trap-crop. Supposedly if you plant radishes a few feet from your greens it will draw all of the flea beetles off of your greens and onto the radishes. I don't grow radishes for greens often, so if they make lace doilies out of their leaves I don't mind.

Radishes will also be put to work against the dreaded Cucumber Beetle. Supposedly they are driven off by the scent of mature radish blooms/seed pods. I have ordered "Rat Tailed" radishes specifically to use against these nasty little stripey/spotted dudes. I've read a lot of places that dispute the effectiveness of radishes against cuke beetle, but most of those places say they just planted them recently and nothing happened. My guess is that they didn't realize it's the mature plant that the cuke beetles dislike. In addition to radishes, I'll be employing the aid of tulle fabric over the tops of all of my cukes, squash and melons in early spring to deter the establishment of these nasty little buggers.

The Currant Sawfly is another obnoxious little jerk that has nearly undetectable eggs and goes from itty bitty problem to total plant sketetonization within a day or two. They're like the hungry little caterpillar, only imagine hundreds of them...
The best course of action for these guys is to keep an eye on them. Last year my currant bushes were the only thing on that side of the house worth checking on so there would be entire weeks where I wouldn't see them.
This year I will be over there because of the blackberries so I will be making checks every few days. As soon as these guys show up I will begin harvesting them for the poultry! Mwahaha...

One other early pest that I have yet to figure out plans for are the Spotted Winged Drosophila, which appeared for the first time last year and might just make me totally flippin crazy! These guys lay their eggs and their little maggots love to live inside the berries so you can only spot them while harvesting. EW. Ew. ew. Unfortunately they are a new little problem quickly becoming a big problem. They're a recent invasive species terrorizing berry farmers across the states, and they prey on the raspberries, blackberries and blueberries which means some hard times for Michigan's blueberry farms.

Any suggestions for the Drosophila?

To make a very long post shorter (I have go go attend to a dog with another bleeding paw. Ugh.) I will summarize the early-summer pests and approach them in a latest post: Tomato Hornworms will be hand-picked, and thank goodness we haven't had issues with Cutworms yet. Japanese Beetles will be flicked, squished and fed to the poultry (in fact most of the pesky creepy crawlies will be poultry fodder.)

I guess that's really my plan for now. Sometimes I think they're waging war on my garden, but like any war there are two sides to the conflict. They're just trying to get by, just like I am. Bugs, bugs, bugs...


  1. I love my organic garden friends. Super advice. I'm sharing this. Very Well written and great photos. I don't have fruit flies here, but Basil is a wonderful companion for deterring flies in the south. In Mexico, women put a vase of Cinnamon Basil on their tables to help keep the flies away. Might be worth a try. xxooxx

  2. Thanks Pam. I may try to interplant basil with my raspberry patch this year. I'll be growing mustard in the raspberries as well, to draw off some of the cabbage loopers from the veggie garden and to harvest for seeds and green manure.

  3. hey, I from Indonesia, I was very surprised to read your writing. We recently were attacked by the pest caterpillars, I mean we are "Indonesia", most of the Indonesian province were attacked, .. btw, you are in any country?.... ..