Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Those Pesky Potato Bugs

Potato bugs are one of the biggest pests we face on the farm, as they can quickly defoliate and kill entire rows of potatoes. The adult Colorado potato beetle looks like this, and they over-winter in the soil, emerging to feed and lay eggs as soon as they find a suitable host plant. This is where our garden plot rotation becomes particularly useful, giving us lead time to be able to hand-pick these buggers before they get a strong foothold.

The eggs can be found on the under sides of leaves, so some hunting is required to prevent them from emerging—the best case scenario. They are oblong and orange, and whenever I find them, I squish them with my fingers. Kind of gooey, but oh so effective.

Below is what the larva look like once the eggs are allowed to hatch, and a single hatch can quickly defoliate an entire plant. If you look closely, you can see a larva above the eggs as well in the previous photo. These are particularly gooey to squish and have that lovely pop that goes along with it. Beyond gross, but I remind myself how delicious those homegrown potatoes taste and how wonderful it is to be able to enjoy them without any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and pop, pop, pop I go.

Jim wants full credit for these photos, as I was totally unsuccessful with the close-ups I tried to take with my camera. After two weeks, the bugs didn't disappoint and were available for photos once again, though the potatoes down in the new market garden have been blissfully unaffected by these pests. Hmmm, now that I think about it, we may need to plant a trap crop in this space each year just to confuse the bugs even more.


mooremama said...

Thank you so much for the pics of the potato bug. I have these on my tomatoe plants and was wondering what they were. I live in NC and haven't seen these before, even though I know they've been here. And you're right, they do have a very satisfying "pop" when mashed!!


Madeline said...

I used to love to squeeze Japanese Beetles. It was my morning task for a long time. I ended up with stained brown fingers that I'd have to scrub and scrub. Cool that they're not hitting your market garden.

Jenny said...

Even though we are much closer to CO than you are, we haven't seen the Colorado potato beetle on our farm yet. What we DO have in large numbers is the three-lined potato beetle, AKA the "old fashioned" potato beetle, which was the major potato pest before the CO beetle took off. It has a similar life cycle but in our case it goes for the tomatillos like crazy! You might try tomatillos as a trap crop--our beetles just love them! I do a lot of hand picking too but instead of squishing them I stick them in a small container of water, which I then dump into our cistern to feed the fish in there.