On winged pests

What a big category, “winged pests”!

Every July we are ambushed by Japanese beetles. Everyone thought this year might be different because of the torrential rains that hit the Midwest earlier in the season, drowning the ground-growing pupae. Well, those rains missed us and we are having a banner harvest of beetles! Ick.

They mostly leave my gardens alone: the one thing they seem to really like (runner beans) I planted late enough (planted with the Peruano beans, actually) so they’ll miss them. So I find and squish a few when I do a garden perambulation; no big deal. Organic does not mean bug-free, after all. It’s the fruit trees and grapes that see the worst of it.

What these beetles do is Swiss cheese the leaves of growing plants. The plum tree out my window here is positively lacy, they’ve done so much damage. The grapes, though, are okay, as are the pawpaws, cherries, peaches and small apple trees. Tom sprayed clay on them. The clay (kaolin clay) is actually the same stuff used in some makeup: it’s a very fine white powder that, when mixed with water, will coat leaves and make them unrecognizable to fruit- and leaf-eating pests. Its downsides are two: rains wash it off, and it does interfere slightly in photosynthesis, though the latter would be worse if the beetles ate the leaves. The clay is typically used in managing pests on apples. It is as organic as you can get, considering it’s dirt.

Tom sets a few traps for them, too. He also hand-harvests with a canning jar half filled with soapy water: go out in the early morning and scrape them into the jar. The soap keeps them from flying away. Then, he gives the trap’s and jar’s contents to the chickens. Crunchy on the outside!

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11 responses to “On winged pests

  1. El – do your chickens eat them? I was at a friend’s farm in Illinois last weekend and she said her hens and turkeys weren’t interested in eating them.

  2. Angie M: Ohhh yeahhh. Thus the “crunchy on the outside” reference. With the chickens, though, they are so trained that they know anything we bring to them is most likely quite a treat. They only shun something wholly inedible. It’s also a case of group think. Not all of them individually eat the things while out on their rambles (so I have noticed) but dang if you plop a bowl down and it’s full of them and your penmates are eating them, you better chow down too.

  3. Those grapes are lookin’ good, El!

  4. Have you ever tried nematodes for the JBs? We used to have them like crazy and filled our jars of soapy water every morning and evening. Traps never worked for us. Since spraying the nematodes, the numbers went down and we haven’t seen one for years (knocking on wood). Then again, we are only on an acre – spraying may be prohibitive for you.

  5. Well, turns out our racoons love them. We have traps set out in an attempt to save the raspberries and all of my beans and each night the racoons come out and chew the bottom of the bag open. Each morning we repair it with duct tape.

  6. The japanese beetles in our neighborhood haven’t made it to the veggie garden yet, though they’ve eaten the heck out of our next door neighbors’ roses. Every time I walk by the roses, I flick a few beetles off to clear a bloom or two, then relish that satisfying pop that comes when you step on ’em. The clay idea sounds great too – I’ll have to pass that on to the neighbor.

    I suppose it’s wishful thinking to wonder if there’s an organic way of either preventing or getting rid of the larvae before they hatch…

  7. We hand-pick them here, too, into a small plastic bucket. My daughter calls it “the beetle bucket of doom.” I was planning on starting with milky spore this fall, but now I’m going to investigate the nematodes first.

  8. Oh, oh! You have pawpaws? I’ve wanted a few pawpaw trees since forever. Have you done any posts on them?

  9. Thanks, Jules. Looks like another good year for them. It’s Winemaking Year so I was kind of hoping it would be!

    Hello Andrea. Nope; never tried nematodes. It is a question of scale for us, though. We do Milky Spore every fall too but I really don’t think it does any good; the buggers just fly in from somewhere else.

    Alecto, those masked bandits must be so thankful to you for catching crunchy treats for them! I wonder if you catch the same ones more than once.

    Lori, yeah, supposedly the milky spore I mentioned earlier kills the grubs when they’re in the grass. Like I said, I haven’t been convinced as we have whole battalions flying in from elsewhere, so maybe it’s working on only our home-grown grubs. Your neighbor might not like the look of white leaves on their roses but it does work. My roses are doing okay after a spray.

    Laney: I suppose a multi-pronged approach can’t hurt; it’s what we’re trying here. The bucket is a pretty sure way though! Doom, indeed. It has been my experience that the infestation varies from year to year. This year is just a particularly good one for Japanese beetles.

    Marcy: They’re on Year 4, so it will be a while yet before I make a harvest. They’re only chest-high now (got them as gallon-bucket little whippets) and it could be another 6-7 years before we see fruit. The river 1/2 mile from our house is the PawPaw, there’s a town east of us with that name…there even used to be the PawPaw snack company that made the most wonderful popcorn when I was a kid. So yeah, I had to have them!

  10. A little vegetable oil in the kill jar for the bugs will work just as well, and be potentially better for your biddies.

  11. I’ve heard that pheromone traps will attract them for miles around, so your perception of them coming from elsewhere may be correct.

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