Bugs on cowpeas

devilwoman(7a Warr Acres OK)May 31, 2009

I noticed today that I have tiny, black and gray bugs on my purple hull peas. I looked up some information on the web, and apparently these are cowpea aphids. I hosed them off this morning, but they are now back. What would be a good and safe method of eliminating these bugs?

I also noticed one tomato plant has had all its leaves eaten. Would these same bugs be responsible? I tried to look for culprits but didn't really see anything. Only one of six tomato plants seems to be affected, so far.


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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


You can spray them with a soap spray, but I'd do it only in the evening or early morning hours, not during the hottest part of the day because it the sprays can hurt the foliage when used at high temperatures.

You can spray them with neem oil. Neem will knock down the aphids pretty quickly, but it also will kill any beneficial insects that are there feeding on them, so use it with caution.

You can be patient and wait for the lady bugs to show up. That's what I do. Sometimes it takes the lady bugs a few days to show up and find the aphids, but they will show up if you haven't sprayed with toxic pesticides. Or, if you don't have a good lady bug population, you can buy a bag or carton of them at a nursery and release them in your garden.

Both the adult and larval form of lady bugs eat aphids. (Lady bug larvae are grey and sort of alligator shaped with little pinkish-orange spots, so don't harm them if you find them. The larvae are aphid-eating machines.)

Other beneficial insects that kill aphids include green lacewings, parisitic wasps and syrphid flies,aka hover flies.

Make sure your plants are getting excess nitrogen. Aphids are particulary attracted to plants that have been given more nitrogen than they need.

For the tomato plants, it is normally (though not always) tomato hornworms that are eating them and you need to find them and remove them quickly. I move them to other plants that I have that they like.....plants that are fairly far from the tomato plants.....because we like the hummingbird moths they turn into. Of course, if you don't want to keep them around, killing them is an option. You can spray your plants with BT or you can drown them, cut them in half with scissors, or squish them between your shoe and the ground.

The hornworms are almost the exact color of the plants and, in the younger stages, they great resemble a stem or limb. Sometimes they are easier to find with a flashlight at night. Or, sometimes you can shake the plant gently and they fall to the ground below. Young tomato hornworms are just little green worms that are not at all impressive looking, so watch carefully for them. Later in the season, they'll get quite large (4-5" long and as big around as your index finger).

If it isn't hornworms, it could be any other leaf-eating pest.


    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 5:34PM
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devilwoman(7a Warr Acres OK)

Thanks, Dawn. I'll go out this evening and try again to find whatever it is that's eating the tomato. Oddly, only one of six plants is affected, at least so far. I just removed the bird netting from the veggie bed yesterday. I'd only put it up there after finding one pepper plant completely MIA and a second pulled up and laying on the ground beside where it had been planted. I figured I'd just use the netting until the plants had sufficiently established root systems so the birds/squirrels/whatever-critters couldn't pull them up.

I saw a ladybug on the hydrangea in front a few weeks ago but haven't really seen any since. I may see if a nursery in town sells them and buy a few. Or maybe I can find some ladybug pheromones which are supposed to attract those in the area to the plants. In the meantime I think I'll try getting as many off with my fingers and the garden hose as I can each day. I spray my roses out front for blackspot, but I'd really prefer to avoid any sort of sprays on food plants. Also, since I have a birdbath and feed the birds and squirrels out back I'd rather not risk making them sick with sprays of any sort. I sort of figure that the backyard is for nature. The neighbors can hardly complain about the appearance of the backyard if everything back there is eaten up and looks pathetic since they can't see it.


    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:43AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Debra, You're welcome. If it is hornworms, that is how they work. Being rather slow-moving, they eat all of one plant that they can and then they move on to another. Sometimes the first damaged plant you see is from the first caterpillar that hatched, and then you'll see subsequent damage on other plants as more cats hatch.

One clue that you caterpillars in general, and hornworms in particular, is the appearance of bright to dark green frass (caterpillar poop) on the leaves of plants. Sometimes you see it on the ground beneath plants too if it doesn't blend in too well with the kind of mulch you're using. And, it gives you another valuable clue in this manner: very large caterpillars leave behind big frass and very small caterpillars leave behind small frass. So the size of the frass helps you know what size cat to look for. I'll find and link a photo because it is one of the best "clues" that can help you determine if you have caterpillars.


Here is a link that might be useful: Photo of Large Hornworm with Frass

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 12:38PM
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I hope you don't think I am following you around, (even tho I am)! But since I am interested in learning, when I run across an unfamiliar word, I often stop and google that to find out what it means. So...about Hover flies. Never heard of them and when I looked online, I found out they are, besides being a good predator insect, great pollinators. I'm wondering if we shouldn't encourage more of them, since I've read that our honey bee population is declining to dangerous levels. Maybe not in Oklahoma, I don't know. But anyways, the more of all these garden helpers we can manage to get in our gardens, the better.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wiki info about Hover Flies

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 1:10PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


It's OK. I don't mind being followed.

Hover flies are all over the place here in our rural part of southern OK. I don't have to try very hard to attract them into the garden, but I do companion plant with certain flowers that attract beneficial insects like hover flies. We have oodles of native wildflowers that they like, so I feel like I have to offer plants that attract them in order to be able to "compete" with the pasture wildflowers for their attention.

In our garden, a few of the companion plants that attract beneficial insects, including hover flies, include: sweet alyssum, native white-flowered yarrow, "Summer Pastels" and "Summer Berries" yarrow, catnip, catmint, chamomile, borage, dill, fennel, various other herbs if you allow them to flower, zinnias, cosmos, tithonias, coneflowers, and various sages and salvias.

I have done everything I can for years to attract beneficials and feel like I have a pretty good population of them. I don't like repeating myself and retyping something I've already said before, so I'm going to find a previous thread on beneficial insects that I wrote during my last really wet year here and am going to link it below.


Here is a link that might be useful: Previous Thread On Beneficial Insects

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 10:37PM
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devilwoman(7a Warr Acres OK)

Dawn, I checked again and can't find anything remotely resembling a hornworm in the area, nor do I find any frass (my, but don't we have a lot of words for poop in English!). I had 1/2" bird netting over the garden from April 30 til May 31 when I removed it. As I recall, sphinx moths are good-sized critters so unless it takes several weeks for their eggs to hatch I'm not sure one could have gotten into the garden to lay eggs. On the other hand, I came back from a trip to Anadarko for work Wednesday to find two doves had found a way through the net! Silly birds, they could find a way in but not out. I had to pull up the staples that held the net on one side while the poor things were flailing about trying to get away from me then go to the other side to shoo them out.

I did notice the uneaten tomato plants seem to have some white spots on the tops of the leaves. I looked for bugs of some sort but didn't see any.

I've been hosing off the pea plants in the morning before work and in the afternoon when I get home. I'm hoping I can keep the aphids from doing too much damage while I wait on the local ladybugs to show up. I do wish they'd hurry up and find their way to my pea plants.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 5:32PM
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