There are bad bugs. That’s right, you heard it here. There are bad bugs! These bugs are not simply misunderstood. These bugs cannot be rehabilitated. These bugs wet the bed, started fires, and would kill the neighbors animals if given the chance. They hit the trifecta of badness. Our only hope is to be able to recognize them and eliminate them before they wreak havoc on our precious gardens.
I’m going to give you the top ten offenders with some natural or otherwise eco-friendly ways to combat them. One of the most important things to remember is that it is a very bad idea to reach first for the broad spectrum insecticide from your local box store. If you do this, you risk killing or scaring off the plethora of beneficial insects that your gardens need. I’ve been pesticide free for five years now but I still have the urge to grab the Malathion at times. You just have to fight it. We can fight it together. So, here they are, the top ten offenders.
#10 Flea Beetles
These guys are small, but they do big damage. They are highly mobile and only about 1/10th of an inch long. On top of that, they feed at night, skeletonizing your vegetation then curl up to sleep in the dirt during the day. They also feed and live in large colonies so they can eat massive amounts of food in a relatively short period of time.
How to combat them: Start with floating row covers. If they can’t get to your plants, they’ll move on to easier picnics. You can also sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth around the base of your plants as a deterrent. Companion plantings of Tansy, Garlic, Wormwood or Candytuft can help with these rascals as well. At the end of this article I give three “recipes” for home brewed insecticide, you could try these for flea beetles.
#9 Slugs and Snails
Slugs and snails are not insects but rather soft bodied mollusks. Whatever the nomenclature, they like to eat plants in the garden, they have to go. There are a few ways to rid yourself of these. The easiest, pick them off and toss them in a bucket of salt water (or relocate them to a more advantageous home for those that would rather). However, since these guys frolic late at night and in the wee hours of the morning, chances are this is going to be more of a challenge for those that like to do things like sleep at night. So, if you’re not going to change your sleep clock to defend your Delphiniums, there are a couple of other ways to discourage this pest. You can trap them using the bottom of a two liter bottle filled with beer. The slugs are attracted to the brew but they really aught not drink and slime. Barriers work pretty well. Some of the more successful barriers: diatomaceous earth, coffee grounds, well ground egg shells, ground nut shells (such as pecans or walnuts), and oat bran. If you use this method, you must be vigilant about reapplication of your barrier after heavy rain. A barrier is only as good as the person that applies it, you must take care.
#8 Japanese Beetle
These pack a double whammy. The adults feed on vegetation, the larva feed on roots. You can hand pick the adults but you’ll need to be hyper vigilant and many find they need some kind of biological aids. These aids include, but are not limited to: nematodes, companion plantings of tansy, marigolds (French Marigolds are better), and when all else fails, Pyrethrin or Neem.
Do the leaves of your veggies ever look like they have been scribbled on with a white marker? You have a leaf miner problem.
Luckily, this guy does not normally do significant damage. However, any damage is too much for me so here’s a few ways to combat them:
- Pick the adults by hand
- Companion plantings, borage, tansy, marigolds, zinnias, foxglove
- Remove all affected leaves (you can compost these)
- The parasitic wasp Diglyphus isaea is a commercially available beneficial insect that will kill leafminer larva in the mine.
Cutworms is a generic term for the larval stage of many different insects. You should keep the leaves raked from around your gardens, and the grass mowed short, this discourages insects from laying their eggs to overwinter around your garden. Diatomaceous earth around the base of your plants will deter them as well. Coffee grounds, pulverized egg shells and builders sand is very effective also.
These can be a good news bad news type insect. On the one hand earwigs eat aphids and spidermites, unfortunately they will also eat just about anything in your garden as well. They are especially fond of flowers, lettuce, fruit and celery. Damage from earwigs looks like holes and jagged cuts on leaf edges. As luck would have it, for the most part, earwigs do not pose life threatening (plant life that is) problems unless you have a particularly massive infestation. Pick them off and squash them (or dispose of them in whatever humane way you see fit) or try one of the deterrent sprays.
The larva of a myriad of insects literally suck the life out of young plants. Nematodes can be found at your favorite organic store to help get them under control before you lose your plants. Adding epsom salt to your transplant holes for tomatoes especially can help. At the end of the article there is a recipe for this.
I never considered ants much of a garden problem until I moved to where I am now. We have gazillions of ants in the garden and for the most part I don’t have a strong opinion of them one way or another. I mean, they don’t bite, they are really tiny and I really didn’t see much of need for controlling something that wasn’t eating my garden. In August of last year I realized that this hands off approach had indeed, done damage. The ants were farming aphids. The aphids were eating the garden, they both had to go. I used boric acid powder around my porch and along the side of the house, not in my garden but it was enough of a deterrent for the ants to take their little captives over to the neighbors yard, problem solved (for me, sorry Gwen).
- Beneficial insects really do their job on this pest. Gather ye round my ladybirds and mantis, come hither spiders and green lacewings. The feast is yours!
- Home remedy sprays are brilliant (see the end of the article for a couple of recipes)
- Companion plantings: Zinnias, Marigolds, Foxglove, Comfrey, Nicotiana, Basil and Rosemary
- If all else fails, bring in the big guns, Neem or Pyrethrins
My number one most detested bug is…
#1 Cucumber Beetle
They’re not all gardeners least favorite, but they are mine. I love to grow cucumbers and I grow many varieties every year. This bug can wipe out your entire crop with very little effort. Last year I lost my entire lemon cucumber crop to them. I tried some of the home remedies but it was too little too late. We were not in a financial position to buy a commercial spray when I realized I needed it and by the time I was able to get some, it was too late. I am ready this year though. I am using companion plantings of Catnip, Nasturtium, French Marigolds, Tansy and Wormwood (Artemisia). I will use my soaps and if all else fails, I’ll get the Neem oil.
Three “Recipes” for home remedy bug sprays:
Garlic/Capsaicin spray *See cautions before making this.
6 cloves garlic
3 hot peppers (the hottest you have or can get) I have used ghost peppers
3 bay leaves
3 cups boiling water
1 tsp. Dawn dish soap
In food processor pulverize garlic (no need to peel them), peppers and bay leaves.
Add soap and boiling water, put in large canning jar. Allow to steep three full days. Strain mixture through cheesecloth or paper towel into a spray bottle. Spray plants liberally and repeat after any rain. You can also spray the insects themselves if you see them. Try not to spray early in the morning or late in the evening so you don’t interrupt your busy beneficial bugs like your honeybees.
*CAUTION: Wear gloves when preparing and using this solution! The hot pepper oils in this can and will stay on your hands and on every surface it touches. Although it is not toxic as to be fatal, this spray can cause extreme discomfort (agony) if it gets on your skin, in your nose or mouth, or in your eyes. Flush repeatedly if it comes in contact to skin. Also clearly label your spray and keep out of reach of children!
Recipe #2 *See caution
1/2 cup rubbing alcohol per 1 quart water mix and spray
*since alcohol can hurt some species, always have a test on one leaf, if no harm is done after two days, you should be good to go.
Recipe #3 *See cautions
6 Tansy leaves, dried
6 Marigold Heads, dried
4 drops of essential clove oil
1 tsp Dawn dish soap
3 cups of boiling water
In food processor or blender, mix Tansy, dried marigold heads. Pulverize.
Add Boiling Water, Dawn, and clove oil. Pour into large canning jar, allow to “steep” 2 to 3 days, strain mixture through cheescloth or paper towels into spray bottles. Spray as necessary
*Keep out of reach of children as Tansy is toxic. Avoid spraying beneficial bugs, and bees prime pollinating times. If you are a woman, do not use this if you are pregnant. Tansy is not to be trifled with, use caution when using this solution.
I hope this primer of “Bad Bugs in the Garden” can help you identify and fight the bugs you may find in your garden this year. Knowledge is power when it comes to the garden. I would like to leave you with an anecdote from my gardening experience from last year.
I was sitting on a stool in front of the cucumber trellis, tying the net that had loosed itself from the post when I spied the dreaded beast. A spotted cucumber beetle had come to feast on my beautiful cuke babies. I was discouraged and down trodden. I knew that we could not afford any spray that week and that it might be as much as two weeks before we could. My shoulders slumped and I really was dismayed when all of a sudden a large (about the size of a half dollar) spider dropped down from the leaf above, snatched the beetle and ascended back to her lunching den. I was elated, invigorated, I was giddy! I felt like God just said, “It’s okay, dear, I’ve got this!” And He does.
Have a paisley day~KeriAnne