Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
June, 2005
Regional Report

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The good news about potato beetle larvae is that they're easy to spot; the bad news is that they're voracious eaters.

Battling the Beasties

The raccoons were an omen, what with their rave party on the screened porch. Once the porch was fortified with chicken wire and latch hooks, they moved on to feasting nightly on chicken feed in the tool shed. Then there were deer tracks in the vegetable garden. Only a few nibbles, but it did not bode well. Of course, there were flea beetles. There's always flea beetles. (Every year gardeners around here say that they're the worst ever. ) Then overnight, the cucumber leaves went from beautiful to Swiss cheese, gratis the cucumber beetles. Next, it was the potato beetles -- not only on the potatoes, but even on tomatoes and nicotiana. No doubt, there are still more to come, including various fungi and assorted other bugs.

Basically, I take a pretty casual attitude to garden pests, figuring there's enough for everyone, but this year I'm raising a market garden, so there's a little more at stake. With limited resources available locally for organic and natural pesticides, I began checking mail-order sources and was amazed at the vast array of deterrents available. That's the good news; the bad news is it's a lot of work sorting through them and figuring out what really works. Meanwhile, everything keeps eating away.

Two- and Four-Legged Critters
No doubt there are readers with much worse deer problems than I have, since I live in a very rural area with lots of food growing naturally for them. So far, two different commercially available deterrents have worked well for me. They both have some combination of putrid eggs, garlic, and chili pepper. Other brands have other ingredients, including oil of mustard, white pepper, thymoil, and peppermint oil. For individual plants, the usual options include strips of metallic tape, compact discs, bars of Lifebuoy soap, and bags of human hair.

As the berry season progresses, birds become an issue. A friend who has a large strawberry patch places strips of twisted metallic tape about 2 feet apart and about 2 feet above the ground over the entire area. This method works much better than just having strips around the edge of a garden area. Inflatable balls with "eyes," inflatable snakes, owls, and other predators help some, but the most effective (still not 100 percent) means of keeping birds away from berry plants is to build a cage around them covered with bird netting.

Bugs Be Gone
The safest and most effective means of controlling flea beetles is to use row covers. I place #9 wire hoops over eggplant at the time of transplanting and leave it on until plants are about 12 inches tall. By that time the worst of the flea beetle season has passed by. If you're willing to have a delayed harvest, just wait until about now to transplant. Otherwise, neem, pyrethum, and insecticidal soap are effective, especially if applied to both the tops and bottoms of leaves (easier said than done; a column on sprayers is for another day). Besides the expense and effort to install, the other downside to row covers is keeping them in place if you live in a windy area. The Ultimate Clothespins from Gardener's Supply Company work much better than regular clothespins.

Row covers also are advised for young cucumber, squash, and melon plantings to deter various beetles. Neem and a combination spray of pyrethrum and rotenone are effective killers. Neem is acceptable by the National Organic Program and the Organic Materials Review Institute, while pyrethrum and rotenone, even though they are from natural sources, are not approved. (Somewhere in the distant past, I recall reading that some neem products and/or concentrations are more effective than others. Unfortunately, I have not been able to verify this. Any input from readers would be greatly appreciated.)

For potato beetles, hand-squashing the adults, the larvae, as well as the bright orange eggs found on the undersides of leaves is the first line of attack. Again, neem and pyrethrum/rotenone are effective. For large plantings, consider using the Bt spray that is specifically for potato beetles.

In general, healthy plants are more able to resist pests. Besides good growing conditions, much hope also is placed on the use of regularly spraying plants with compost tea or a "plant health activator" based on harpin protein. Messenger and Green Guard are two product brand names that contain this.

In choosing pesticides, a helpful chart of pests and controls is available in the catalog from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (P.O. Box 2209, Grass Valley, CA 94945; 888-784-1722; For a wide range of pest controls, check out the catalogs from Peaceful Valley, Planet Natural (1612 Gold Avenue, Bozeman, MT 59715; 800-289-6656;, and Gardens Alive! (5100 Schenley Place, Lawrenceburg, IN 47025; 513-354-1482;

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