Tag Archives: beneficial insects

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.

Pin it for later.

DIY Insect Hotel

Insect hotels are an easy way to create habitat for beneficial insects in or near your garden. It’s basically the same concept as a bird house but for bugs instead. You can make yours to help attract solitary bees, wasps, predatory beetles, lacewings, hoverflies and more. These insects play an important role in your garden’s ecosystem, pollinating plants, and feeding on pests. 

To get started I’ll discuss the insect hotel I made as an example. It is made entirely from scrap and natural materials. The outside is scrap plywood and tin and the compartments are filled with bamboo, a log with drilled holes, pine cones, sticks, bark, hay, and bricks. What you make yours from is up to you. You can utilize what you have to create something fairly rustic like I did or get real fancy.

Materials

The bamboo and logs with drilled holes were added with solitary bees and wasps in mind. They both use or create holes, frequently in woody material, to lay their eggs. Predatory beetles and hoverflies can find places to hide and over winter among the pine cones, sticks, and bark. The hay provides good habitat for lacewings and the bricks add larger holes for spiders and other insects to use.

The most important part is add a mix of materials. Think about all the crevices and spaces you normally find insects in and mimic these in your design. If you’d like to attract a specific insect to your garden you can also search for its habitat preferences. Does it like cool damp places close to the ground? Or sunny, dry places up high?

It’s okay if your insect hotel is completely different from the one I created. Just as there’s a wide variety of insects that could use a helping hand there’s a wide variety of habitats you can use your insect hotel to create. A quick Pinterest or Google image search will turn up hundreds of inspiring ideas to help you create something that fits your needs. People have made giant insect towers from stacked pallets and little painted boxes that hang on the wall or fence. You can use hollow logs, stacked cinder blocks, or old terra-cotta pots to stuff with material. 

Construction

To put mine together I measured and then cut the plywood using a circular saw. From there I screwed the plywood together to form a box using some screws leftover from another project. Then I decided to add more plywood to create small compartments or shelves so I could easily add different types of material. I found a perfect size scrap piece of tin that I hand for the roof and screwed that on as well. I haven’t yet, but I need to staple on some scrap chicken wire I have to hold in loose materials like the pine cones. This will also allow me to stuff the materials in tighter.

If you don’t have access to power tools think about ready made containers you could use rather than building a box like I did. Maybe you have an old wooden crate handy or could use an old pot, block, or hollow log like I mentioned above.

Tips

There are a few general ideas that can help you make the most of your insect hotel. First while some insects like damp conditions you might still consider putting something that sheds water on the top. That way your materials will last longer and even if it sits directly on the ground you can keep the upper layers dry for certain species. 

Secondly it’s best to use compostable or recyclable materials. Your insect hotel probably won’t last forever. Building one that can easily be recycled or returned to the earth at the end of it’s use is good planning. Just because straws and pvc pipe have the same shape as bamboo doesn’t mean that they’re good alternatives. 

Consider your hotel’s location carefully. If you have a small space you might have limited choices. However if possible it’s best to place your hotel where it’s sheltered from some of the prevailing winds. If you like bees you may also want to look for a sunny location as they rely heavily on the sun for warmth.  

Lastly don’t stop with just your insect hotel’s structure include some “landscaping” for it too. Insects are more likely to utilize your hotel if you add features around it they like. You can plant a flower mix around it, add a lot of mulch to that area of your garden, let the nearby grass grow tall, or add a place for them to access water.

Insect hotels are a great weekend project. They’re a quick and easy way to help your garden and the natural world. They’re also an excellent project to get kids involved with. Remember that you can make an insect hotel with anything you have on hand, there’s no right or wrong way to make one, and even if it comes out a little wonky it’s okay. The bugs don’t care if you measured everything perfectly!

Pin it for later.

How to Grow Your Own Mulch

I can’t say enough good things about mulch. We have several blog post that mention the importance of mulch but if you want to learn more about why it’s so great check out this post, Mulch Ado… The Best Mulch for Your Garden.

If you’re on board with the importance of mulch but trying save money or make your garden as efficient as possible this is the perfect post for you.

Having a well mulched garden doesn’t have to cost a lot or require a lot of outside inputs to your garden. Don’t let those perfect Pinterest gardens with tons of beautiful, golden straw evenly spread around each plant fool you! Growing some or all of your own mulch is totally feasible and chances you already have some growing without even realizing it.

Use weeds.

As long as you don’t let them go to seed, even weeds make excellent mulch. In what some people call the “chop and drop method” you just go through your garden cutting your weeds and dropping them around plants.

Plant your pathways in a clover.

If you’re using permanent beds you can plant your pathways in a perennial cover crop like clover. Clover will add nitrogen to the soil as it grows plus your pathways can be mowed and used to mulch your beds.

Use your lawn.

You don’t need a hayfield to grow a significant amount of your own mulch. If you mow any lawn area at all you should invest in a bagger for your lawn mower. Grass clippings can immediately be dumped in the garden around plants and are great for adding nitrogen to the soil.

Don’t remove dead material from around perennials.

I’ve said this before but “cleaning up” your garden is not only unnecessary but harmful for your garden. By removing dead plant material you’re removing nutrients and homes for beneficial insects. The only only exception is when you need to remove plant material that you know is home to a pest like if you had a lot of asparagus beetles you’ll want to remove the dead asparagus fronds in the fall.

Plant some cover crops.

Cover crops are not just for large farms or when you’re resting a garden bed. Cover crops like alfalfa and buckwheat are perfect for sneaking in any small available garden space to grow and cut for mulch.

Check out this post for more great ideas, Cover Crops for Great Green Manure, Mulch, and More.

Grow comfrey.

Comfrey is an excellent choice for mulch because of its deep tap root. It brings nutrients and minerals up from deep in the soil and using its leaves as mulch will make these accessible to other plants. It’s also a hardy perennial and will easily tolerate being trimmed back for mulch.

Use any extra plant material you have.

If you think about the plants you grow chances are you’re probably already growing some of your own mulch and are just composting or tilling it in instead. Try thinking of every non-edible plant material as potential mulch. When you pull pea plants off their trellises when they’re finished for the year use them to mulch around your next crop. Did you grow hardneck garlic? Lay down the stalks as mulch after you harvest the bulbs. Even peanut shells can be used for mulch.

Try growing some of your own grains.

Most grains offer mulch as a secondary product. Whether you’re interested in rye, wheat, or rice once you’ve threshed the cereal off the plant you’ll be left with a lot of straw. This straw is perfect mulch. Did you know older grain varieties are much taller than modern varieties partially because straw isn’t valued in modern commercial agriculture?

The importance of mulch in your garden cannot be understated. Whether you’re trying to conserve moisture, add nutrients to the soil, create habitat for beneficials, or just cut back on weeding mulch is an integral part of maintaining a healthy garden. Using these tips you can mulch your garden without spending tons of money or relying solely on outside inputs.

Pin it for later.