Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2001
Regional Report

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Flea beetles made these holes in mizuna leaves, and they'll do the same to most other brassica crops.

Watching for Pests

Just when gardening seems to be rolling along fine, insect season begins. The first bugs of summer to arrive are the flea beetles. I planted mizuna, a tasty oriental green, under lights in February and had large, healthy transplants to place in the garden a few weeks ago. After hardening them off, I planted them at the same time as my peas. It was so nice to have plants up and growing so early.

I went out the other day to harvest mizuna greens for a salad and every leaf was peppered with tiny holes. I expect to find flea beetles on my eggplants a little later in the spring, but this is just too early for me (but obviously not for the beetles). It was a real wakeup call because the last thing I worry about at this time of year is pest problems.

Staying on Top of Pests

I've found the real secret to a healthy garden is to stay on top of pests. The old saying that the best thing you can put in your garden is your shadow is really a good rule to follow. Constantly visiting the garden and looking at plants and soil alerts me to potential problems before they get out of hand.

Learning From Flea Beetles

I know flea beetles are a problem in my garden. Usually I plant my eggplants under row covers to keep the beetles off the plants until they're large enough to fend off the attack on their own. I just wasn't ready for them this early.

It's too late to put row covers on the mizuna since the beetles have already found them, so I'll just chalk this up to experience and use the mizuna as a trap crop. I'll let the beetles have them and perhaps they'll stay off the other plants I put out.

Using Row Covers

Row covers have been the most successful tool I've used in my garden for fending off these tiny black beetles. Other methods that work well include spreading wood ashes or slaked lime on damp plants to keep beetles from getting to the leaves. I've also read about the new commercial product called Surround At Home made of kaolin clay that works the same way as the ash dust, but better.

Planting Later

I could also wait until later in the year to plant the vulnerable crops such as my mizuna, but I really love those fresh spring greens. Now that I'm on top of the situation I will protect my Chinese cabbage from the onslaught so at least I have these brassica family greens for a meal.

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