Tag Archives: organic pest management

Organic Pest Control: Japanese Beetles

A species of scarab beetle, these iridescent insects can be a nightmare for gardeners. Japanese beetles or Popillia japonica skeletonize the leaves of many plant species leaving just the veins. As the females eat throughout the early summer they lay eggs in the ground, eventually producing 40-60. Around midsummer, these eggs hatch into larvae which feed on grass roots until fall when they burrow 4-8 inches into the ground and go dormant for winter. In late spring they become pupae and eventually beetles which emerge from the soil and begin the cycle anew.

Solutions

If you struggled with Japanese beetles in your garden this summer, fall is the perfect time of year to take care of them. Here are a few ways you can control Japanese beetles in your garden.

Beneficial Nematodes

Beneficial nematodes or Steinernema feltiae are worm-like parasites that move through the soil and feed on Japanese beetle and other larvae. When beetles are in their larvae stage spreading nematodes on your lawn or around your fruit trees and garden can be effective.

Milky Spore 

Milky spore or Bacillus popilliae is a bacteria that attacks Japanese beetles in their larval stage. It can be spread on lawns and gardens. Apply before the ground freezes.

Chickens

If you have chickens giving them free rein of the garden or around fruit trees during fall and winter can help. Chickens actively forage for insects in the soil. While their incessant scratching can be a problem around your plants in the middle of summer it can be extremely helpful in the fall. They’ll dig up and eat the larvae. During the summer they’ll also enjoy eating the beetles but you’ll want to limit their time in the garden and fence off small plants that can be easily damaged.

If free-ranging your chickens even for a bit isn’t an option for you, consider putting up moveable fencing. A plastic deer netting will work in a pinch or you can invest in something electric netting which is easy to move, allowing you to rotate your chickens’ pasture.

Welcome-to-the-Garden Pollinator Collection

Wildflowers

Some studies (like this one from 2015), have indicated that wildflower plantings can increase insect biodiversity and the number of beneficial insects in gardens and reduce pest issues.

Floating Row Cover

While not necessarily the easiest solution, adult Japanese beetles can also be kept at bay with floating row cover.

Neem Oil

Some folks have also had success using neem oil to protect plants from adult beetles. It’s an organic pesticide and fungicide that’s used for a variety of garden problems and is available in many garden supply stores. It’s generally sprayed directly onto the plant. Multiple applications may be necessary throughout the season.

Crop Rotation & Cover Cropping

As always we recommend keeping your soil and therefore plants healthy by employing crop rotation and cover crops. Healthy plants are much less susceptible to pest problems. Fall is the perfect time of year for a soil test as well.

Sources

Organic Integrated Pest Management

As lovely and romantic as organic gardening can be it can also be really tough. A huge struggle for many organic gardeners is dealing with pests in an efficient and economical way without the use of pesticides or rodenticides. Developing an organic integrated pest management system or IPM can help.

Monitor & Identify

The first step is to monitor your garden and identify any pest issues. Record any problems in a garden journal and be as specific as possible. Research the type of pests you’re seeing and their life cycles, if it is an animal like a raccoon or squirrel you can reach Critter Detective squirrel control . Are they cabbage worms or cabbage loopers attacking your broccoli plants? Also record dates and conditions when they attack your garden. Do aphids destroy your fall crop of lettuce or do the only impact your spring sowings? The more you learn about these pests the easier it is to prevent them. You should also consider at this time if the pests are actually a problem. Having to pick off a few tomato hornworms may not be worth putting major preventative measures in place if they’re not actually affecting the productivity in your garden and are otherwise easily managed.

Prevention

This is the most important part of an IPM. Once you’ve gathered information you can put preventative measures in place. Knowing a pest’s habitat and life cycle can be key. Examples of of preventative measures include planting a crop late or early to avoid a major pest season (ex. planting quick maturing cabbage early when it’s too cold for cabbage moths), attracting certain bird species to keep pest populations in check, encouraging or purchasing native predatory insect species (ex. ladybugs can be purchased online and are excellent at reducing aphid populations), growing pest resistant varieties, or using row cover over your most vulnerable crops. Sometimes you’ll need to employ a combination of these strategies. Often a well planned preventative strategy can keep your garden productive without a lot of additional work.

Control

In severe situations where pest prevention has been ineffective control measures are used as a last resort. These controls may be very effective against pests however they’re typically costly in other ways. Some, like handpicking can be very time consuming while others may actually be pricey for the small gardener like neem oil. Even though they aren’t as problematic as chemical pesticides they also may have unintentional environmental impacts despite the fact that they’re organic. Organic pesticides like neem oil, diatomaceous earth, or milky spore powder may be implemented with the intention of only harming a single pest species but unfortunately there’s no way to protect the good species. These organic pesticides can still kill beneficial insects like butterflies, bees, parasitic wasps, predatory beetles, and more.

Using integrated pest management can help you successfully maintain an organic garden. While no strategy is perfect, researching and recording your specific pest problems and then implementing preventative strategies can be effective.

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Combating Mexican Bean Beetles

Beans seem like the ultimate beginner crop. They’re easy to grow and save seed from, they’re nitrogen fixing and unfussy about soil conditions, and there’s tons of varieties for gardeners to choose from. They’re also a great source of protein for those looking to produce more of their own diet. Beans are perfect until you come out to your garden to find all parts of the plant have been thoroughly chewed on.

Mexican bean beetles can become a huge problem for gardeners hoping for a great bean crop. You may first notice them by the damage done to the leaves of your plants. Bean beetles eat the leaves from the underside and leave them with a lace-like appearance. If left to continue they will eventually kill the plant. They also eat the beans and you may notice chunks missing from them or a brown, scabby spots.

The beetles themselves are easy to identify. They lay small yellow eggs in clusters glued to the underside of the leaves. The larvae are bright yellow and spiny and will stand out on your bean plants. As adults they look like a light orange colored ladybug and are in fact as species of ladybug. Note that other species of ladybug are beneficial and eat harmful insects and aphids.

There are several ways to combat bean beetles and what works well for one person may not work well for everyone. Every garden is unique.

Use Neem Oil

Neem oil can be purchased as an OMRI (Organic Materials Institute) certified pesticide or fungicide derived from neem seeds. It’s effective at combating Mexican Bean Beetles however it may harm beneficial insects in your bean patch as well.

Handpick

Not the most fun option, but some people find hand picking to be effective. You can just smash the eggs and pick off the larvae and beetles and place them in a bucket of water and a little dish soap to kill them. However if the beetles are particularly abundant in your garden or you have a large bean patch it may be difficult to keep up with them.

Let Chickens Eat Them

Most of the time it’s good to keep your chickens out of the garden. You don’t want them eating your harvest or digging up seedlings in their quest for grubs.  However if you have bean beetles you may want to let your chickens into your bean patch for a snack.

Install Row Cover

Although it may seem like a drastic and expensive option row cover is very effective if used from the start of the season. It can be used multiple years.

Use Milky Spore Powder

Milky Spore is a bacteria that kills Japanese beetles however some gardeners say that they’ve successfully used it to kill Mexican Bean Beetle larvae. Milky Spore Powder is OMRI certified and safe to use on organic gardens.

Plant Late or Early

Mexican bean beetles don’t hatch out in the early spring or fall so you may be able to get a crop in before or after they’re really an issue.

Try Different Varieties

Some varieties will attract more bean beetles than others. If you find one that’s a favorite you may be able to use it as a trap crop to draw the beetles away from your other varieties. You can burn your trap crop plants and the beetles on them.

Help Their Predators

There are many creatures that feed on Mexican bean beetles including toads, some birds, several species of parasitic wasp, tachinid flies, and spined soldier bugs. By creating habitat for them in your garden you may be able to reduce your bean beetle problem. Some insects like parasitic wasps and spined soldier bugs can also be purchased and released into your garden.

 

Don’t let bean beetles stop you from planting beans. There’s plenty of ways to combat bean beetles so you can still have an excellent harvest.

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