Long term flea beetle control

alabamanicole(7b)June 26, 2010

The chickadees are fledged and gone, so I've lost my predators and the flea beetles are back. Only one eggplant seedling survived the initial swarm and it just started really recuperating and taking off in the past 2 or 3 weeks. Now it is taking all the damage.

Apparently flea beetles are going to be a problem at the new house; I've never had them before. What can I do long term to help prevent them in coming years?

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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

What can I do long term to help prevent them in coming years?

Figure that out and you'll be a millionaire.

Dan

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 4:46PM
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Michael

Consider a trap crop. I know for certain that flea beetles have a strong preference for radishes over broccoli and cabbage. Radish seed is fairly cheap and they are easy to establish in cool weather at least. Then, wipe them out on the radishes, repeatedly.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 8:20PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

There are a number of things to do, trap cropping, interplanting, Floating Row Covers, but the single thing that helps most is to be sure your plants are growing in a good healthy soil. There are those that seem to have a real problem with this basic tenet of organic gardening, but it does work to help reduce the incidence of insect pest and plant disease problems.

Here is a link that might be useful: About Flea Beetles

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 6:39AM
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alabamanicole(7b)

Dan - I know, million dollar question. I guess I should be counting my blessings... I don't have squash bugs, japanese beetles or vine borers (yet). Aphids aren't hard to deal with. So flea beetles are my only real concern.

Michael - All of those crops you mentioned are winter crops here. My flea beetles are exclusively on eggplant, nothing else.

I suppose I could just not plant eggplant, but it's one of the few veggies that can take a brutal summer like we're having and thrive.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 11:28AM
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peter_6

Floating row covers certainly work for the here-and-now. Organic orthodoxy suggests that properly balanced soil will cure all ills. Take a look at Arden Andersen's "Energy in Agriculture" (I mayn't have remembered this title accurately); he probably says which soil mineral deficienies cause flea beetles to thrive. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 4:06PM
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Michael

OP: I was just using that as an example that I know works well while not having a specific example for eggplant this time of year. FWIW, my surrounding ground has many different weeds mixed in the grasses which are both Buffalo and a mix of cool season types, never had a problem with flea beetles in the last 10 years.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 6:22PM
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alabamanicole(7b)

I will definitely be doing row covers for the seedlings next year. But this time of year they are blooming, so no row covers.

The solution may be as simple as providing habitat for the chickadees who were acting as my pest control. I'm not sure why they left or where they went, but this time of year we have *plenty* of insects for them to eat.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 8:32PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

I swear I was going to write something snarky about whether you-know-hoo would chime in that all yoo need is good soil. Paraphrasing: soil isn't a force field.

Nonetheless, I leave the arugula volunteers and the mizuna to attract the flea beetles, and do a row cover over the susceptible plants. And places to perch for the birds. And my soil is great. But I still get them. I'll pay for your discovery, Nicole.

Dan

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 2:25AM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

There is a gross error in unstanding in Peter 6 post. While those of us that have practiced Organic Gardening for many years and have a good, healthy soil well balanced with nutrients have seen a large decrease in plants attractive to insect pests and diseases, none of us would state that organic gardening is a cure all for those problems. If you make your soil in to a good healthy soil that grows strong and healthy plants you will see fewer insect pest and plant disease problems, but they will not totally disappear. After all the beneficial insects, the predators need some food also and many of the insect pests are just that, foods that sustain the beneficials, so you need to maintain a balance.
This was seen by Sir Albert Howard, demonstrated by Friend Sykes, Lady Eve Balfour, J. I. Rodale, and several others and has been written about in Organic Gardening magazine, Mother Earth News, and some other similar magazines, and is being written about in Fine Gardening and Garden Gate Magazines.
Will a good, healthy soil totally eliminate a Flea Beetle problem? Hardly but, along with other measures, can help reduce problems you do have. There is a lot of good research out there that shows that plants with some nutrient deficincy are more attractive to insect pests then plants that are not.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 6:57AM
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alabamanicole(7b)

"Force field" -- I love it!

So much of the holistic garden guru advice simply isn't applicable outside certain regions... usually outside wherever the guru is from. Mulch does not magically eliminate weeds, yes you CAN grow in clay, and the permaculture way of leaving dead plants where they die and regrowing in the same spot every year is a shortcut to a massive pest infestation here.

A local gardener suggested sticky traps for flea beetles. When I expressed concern over accidentally trapping beneficials, he said he rarely saw them on the traps.

If I could just wave my hand over the plants all day, they'd never have a chance to eat and would die of exhaustion from all the jumping. :)

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 7:55AM
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novice_2009(zone 6b)

You guys are funny.
Tried radishes for a trap crop for my beans, but they were left untouched, and my beans are eaten up.
Hmmmm.....
Those guys stay in my yard and just wait for me to plant beans I think.
Alabamanicole, could you expand on the part about leaving dead plants to regrow? I read in a book to do that, and beginning to think it's not such a good idea here in Tn with my clay soil and ground ivy that grows over the mulch.
But seriously, at the end of the growing season, when perennials are dead, should I cut them down and remove dead plant material?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 1:58PM
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novice_2009(zone 6b)

You guys are funny.
Tried radishes for a trap crop for my beans, but they were left untouched, and my beans are eaten up.
Hmmmm.....
Those guys stay in my yard and just wait for me to plant beans I think.
Alabamanicole, could you expand on the part about leaving dead plants to regrow? I read in a book to do that, and beginning to think it's not such a good idea here in Tn with my clay soil and ground ivy that grows over the mulch.
But seriously, at the end of the growing season, when perennials are dead, should I cut them down and remove dead plant material?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 2:02PM
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alabamanicole(7b)

When I said "regrowing in the same spot" I meant growing tomatoes, for example, in the same spot year after year, not that the plants would come back. (Although some of them might.)

In warmer climes, most pests use old vegetation as refuge over the winter. We just don't get the hard freeze cycles that knock them back, and to make it worse most of them can get through two or three lifecycles during the long summers. Keeping a clean garden area and removing dead vegetation can help reduce their population. Either burn or hot compost -- a cold compost pile won't destroy them.

Parts of TN tend to have much longer, colder winters than here even though we're only half a zone away, so you many not need to worry so much about sanitation.

I haven't had much luck with trap crops either. They just seem to bring more pests in the long run.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 4:15PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Many insect species overwinter in your garden, beneficials, pests, or on "weeds" nearby, or in a lot of other places. eliminating all of this can keep insect pests from overwintering but will also keep beneficials from doing the same thing.
Trap crops are those plants you put in to draw insect pests to so they might leave the plants you want alone. So, if you plant something meant to draw certain insects to those plants that is what they will do.
Burning plant resudue is not an environmentally good thing to do and it is a large waste of the nutrients that you destroy in the process.
I have seen many comments that the radish planted among certain plants does not work, most often by people that planted the wrong radish (not all will work) with the wrong plants (not all plant species are protected by the Icycle Radish). I get the same thing with Insecticidal Soap, people spray when the insect pests aren't there, often around 4 pm, and complain that IS does not work and harms their plants.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2010 at 6:34AM
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peter_6

I located the Arden Andersen book I mentioned in my previous post. He says the mineral deficiences associated with flea beetles are C, P, and Se. I observe the following:
(a) many growers emphasize N and K ahead of C and P (but not organic growers as a rule) (b) it's said that selenium is very low or even absent in Mid-west soils. But it's hard to know what to do about it because agronomy books seldom refer to Se, so we can't tell what the desirable soil level would be. And soil labs might not test for it anyway. So row covers it is. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2010 at 8:45PM
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alabamanicole(7b)

Interesting idea. It's a good argument for using composted cow manure.

Selenium map of the US:
http://tin.er.usgs.gov/geochem/doc/averages/se/usa.html

(Click on the map to zoom into your county and eventually it gives you a breakdown of many elements.)

My county has fairly good levels of selenium, but the standard deviation is large enough that any particular patch of soil could be anywhere from deficient to having an excess.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2010 at 8:00PM
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Michael

The success I saw with trap crops for FB was in a commercial broccoli field of about 45 acres, the grower had a problem with the transplants getting badly infested with the little buggers soon after planting. It wasn't that the grower couldn't control them with insecticides, he was simply looking for a more economical way to do it. as a crop consultant I suggested he try a field with a border strip of radishes that he could easily spray with the pesticide he chose that he knew would work to kill the FBs. Just outside the field was cover for the FBs to overwinter in and as expected, they first emerge on the south face of the north end of the field. He sprayed the radishes, which were up before the broccoli was planted at very little cost to him, and had very little FB pressure on the transplants for about 6 weeks. Ordinarily, those 6 weeks would have absolutely required spraying in his way of dealing with the situation to keep the FBs from seriously damaging the crop. A partial success in that the project kept him from doing 2 sprays over the entire field and pointed him into a different way of looking at pest control which he was willing to do.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2010 at 10:11PM
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ladyofthewoods(z7VA)

I've no "long term" way to handle it, but I've had a lot of luck with Hot Pepper Spray. Since the beetles are attracted to the plant they like to eat by the smell of the plant, spraying it with this stuff disquises it. I make my own from dried, ground, boiled and then strained "Peter-Peppers" mixed with a veggie oil. Pour it into a spray bottle. Spray plants/leaves (upper and lower) Just be careful of the wind. (hottest thing i've ever had hit my eyeballs by a sudden gust of wind)

Good luck and happy gardening!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 9:54AM
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idaho_gardener

Kudos, Michael.

My potato plants got their leaves eaten pretty badly. I ignored the problem and the plants grew new leaves. I didn't know what had eaten the leaves, but it might have been the flea beetles.

It looks like there are predators of the flea beetles. I think I'll take Michael's example and try to create a year-round habitat that harbors the predators.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 4:46PM
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alabamanicole(7b)

The current verdict on this round of flea beetles is that they aren't doing any real significant damage. The plant doesn't seem stressed and there isn't enough missing leaf tissue to impact photosynthesis in a real way.

If I can control the damage done by first round of the year with row covers, the second generation doesn't seem to be a problem for me.

I may yet have a 3rd generation, though. Summer has a long way to go.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 4:48PM
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Michael

Excellent observations Nicole. There are good reasons for calling it, "pest management" one of which is there is no point in trying to achieve 100% kill or control as they would be impractical and/or unachievable aside from being unnecessary. You may well find the FBs can be effectively controlled to your desires with floating row covers early in the year, great! I have yet to find myself ever spending too much time observing crops for pests and diseases from the macro to the micro view. It is amazing how many times my first impulse has been to do something when encountering an initially perceived problem and then have to stop, slow down and start paying attention to what happens next. Often, what happens next is nothing serious, I'm still learning. Sometimes what happens over the course of a number of days is a massive pest population explosion, OOPS! Yep, still learning after all these decades :)

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 9:50PM
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alabamanicole(7b)

I agree, Michael. I think most gardeners have that knee-jerk reaction... perhaps because there are so many pest control products and discussions? I have been very glad to see the rise of IPM being accepted as a real, viable method for pest control even in commercial situations.

I wish I had more time to spend in the garden, but I am strapped for time right now. I get out there once a day and at least take a look at everything, but usually only for a few minutes and the only time I have is mid-afternoon and it's awfully hot right now.

I try to first, try to determine if it really is a pest and not a beneficial or something passing through. Second, see if something will come along and eat it for me. Third, assess if there is any real damage. Fourth, figure out what I can do to keep it from coming back as strong next year.

Fifth, if there IS real damage and I'm NOT getting any help from other critters, use an organic and safe method for me and the environment. When all else fails, go to a non-organic method which is still safe(r) for me and the environment. If I can't do it in a non-damaging way... perhaps I just shouldn't grow that item. :)

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 11:03AM
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