What's eating my lettuce?

autodidactJune 19, 2008

I really know almost nothing about growing vegetables in Colorado. I have a few things in whiskey barrels on my front patio. This year I tried lettuce and chard for the first time. The red leaf lettuce came up nicely and has since been absolutely shredded by something I can't see. It's just devoured almost completely. The same something seems to be nibbling some nearby basil and green lettuce, but seems particularly fond of the red leaf lettuce. It doesn't seem to be bothering the rainbow chard in the same barrel. Any idea what it might be or what I should do about it?

These are planted in a rich mixture; I have never used any fertilizer or insecticides on them.

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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi AD,

If you have something doing damage that youre not seeing, here are a couple possibilities.

Are you seeing "slime trails" on any of the remaining leaves? If youÂre not familiar with that, "slime trails" are the shiny lines you see on foliage where the slime on slugs dries on the leaves wherever theyÂve crawled. Move some of the leaves back and forth in the light, and if theyÂre there, youÂll see them!

If you donÂt see slime trails, I recommend looking for earwigs! They come out mostly at nite, and for a couple years they virtually defoliated my rhubarb! (It took me a while to figure out what the problem was.) For as little as they are, I never cease to be amazed by how much damage they can do in such a short period of time. They LOVE to be able to get down next to wood (especially), or rock thatÂs up against soilÂlike the situation youÂd have in the whisky barrels where the soil meets the wood. (A couple years ago I had a plague of them out in my whisky barrels!) There are a couple ways to look for them. You can go out with a flashlite just before you go to bedÂor at least a couple hours after it gets all the way dark outÂand simply look here and there on the leaves to see what you see, or you can fold up a thick piece of newspaper that will fit on top of the soil between the plants and saturate it with water, then go out first thing in the morning and lift it up to see how many you find under it. The paper needs to be thick enough that it will for sure stay wet all nite.

If it is earwigs that are eating your salad, I use granular soil insecticide to control them. After three years of continually treating the areas in my yard where IÂve been finding themÂand they definitely do prefer some plants over othersÂI havenÂt had much of a problem at all, so far, this year. Last year they actually crawled up into the buds on my shasta daisy and were eating the flowers before they even opened! Boy! Was I mad when I saw that! That time, and since it was on an ornamental, I used a "stronger" method of control. My shastaÂs are getting close to opening, and so far theyÂre looking good this year. (I have sprinkled some of the granules around themÂjust to be sure!)

The soil granules I use are Ortho MAX Insect Killer for Lawns. The label specifies that itÂs safe for veggie gardens, and I use it around my lettuce and spinach and occasionally around other things if I start seeing damage. Because of the severe problem IÂve had with the rhubarb, I sprinkle a little around that every now and then even before I start to see damage. As near as I can tell, earwigs multiply like fruit flies, and if you donÂt do something to control them when you first start to see them, the situation gets out of control very quickly and itÂs much more difficult to get them back under control. I also tend to sprinkle a little bit of the MAX along the fences and railroad ties in my yard, and under the decorative rocksÂall the places they really like to hide during the day.

Some people claim earwigs are "good" insects and that they only eat decomposing matter, but, based on the destruction of living plants IÂve had in my own yard, no one will EVER convince me of that!

Let us know what the problem is when you figure it out,

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 5:17PM
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david52 Zone 6

You might try rolling up some tape sticky side out, to see if you can catch what ever it is?

Re earwigs, I've come to the conclusion that if there is super-abundant decomposing stuff for them to eat, they'll leave the garden alone. Like if I till in a couple cubic yards of half-decomposed compost, they deal with that and leave everything else alone.

However..... If there isn't enough of that stuff around, then they get into everything.

An effective trap is damp, loosely rolled up newspaper by the plants in the garden, left out over night. They'll fill that thing up.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 6:33PM
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