My wife and I immensely enjoy playing in our garden. Yes it is work but when you enjoy something that much, it’s hard to call it work. Let’s face it; if you creep up on someone who is smiling while they work chances are they’re gardening.
We live in a sleepy town of approximately 500 residents in NE New Brunswick Canada. Our gardening seasons are quite short, May to October at the latest, however, winter gardens are also feasible with some ingenuity and determination.
We live on a 1.5 acre property which is an average size lot in our area. There is about a full acre that we began planning and planting for our present and future gardens. What does all this have to do with our nightmare story? Well here goes.
In the spring of 2012 we planted our first 1500 sq ft garden with nothing but potatoes. We had just moved to this property and also just found out we were pregnant at 36 and 45 years old of our first child. Needless to say we did not have much time for gardening, dealing with the shock of having a child in such a late time in our lives was enough to handle. However, our potatoes went into the ground and we maintained the garden as best we could.
Beginning in late July, while watering the garden, we noticed chewed potato leaves. Having an organic garden, you get used to perfect imperfections and don’t think too much of it, initially. We went on watering and enjoying a rare evening of heat and comfort. The following day after a very hot and dry spell we continued our evening ritual and watered the garden, however. this time the few chewed leaves became 25% of the garden. This was not an event to ignore, so we began inspecting our plants, only to find hundreds of slimy red predators. The Colorado Potato Larvae (see picture 1-2-3)
At this point, having seen the sudden and constantly increasing devastation of our potato garden, we decided to pick our potatoes then, maybe 2 weeks early, to save our yield. Our potatoes were healthy and large so we had no regrets at the time for having cropped early. Our mistake in that summer of 2012 was not investigating this bug. Life was busy, many other worries to live through we neglected to give the respect deserved by this insect and investigate its pillaging potential.
Now let’s skip to summer of 2013. We now have our original 1500 sq ft potato garden and dug another one 6 feet next to it of 2200sq ft. Quite the ambitious project given the fact I have a full time online hydroponic business, my wife went back to work teaching at University after only 5 month maternity leave and I was a stay at home dad.
We planted 3 varieties of tomatoes, 2 varieties of cucumbers, green peppers, carrots, turnip, corn, onions and beats. All 100% organic and non-GMO.
Remember, last year it was late July when we saw the potato beetles. This year they appeared late June. A lot earlier than last year and they came back with a vengeance. Had we investigated this insect the first summer we saw them we would have adapted our plan of action. But we didn’t and we paid big time!
This summer, however insanely busy with the new baby and 2 full time jobs, we did not want our work to go to waste. Upon first sign of the Colorado potato beetles returning we did our homework. First we found out that one must be very determined to rid their gardens of these pests. We found that out the hard way.
The first article we read suggested picking off all the mothers. By doing so we would reduce the amount of eggs a mother can lay. This proved to be a nasty, time consuming, energy consuming task but we believed in growing nothing but organic food and pesticides were not an option. We spent several hours on a Sunday removing all the mothers we could find. The next day they seem to have multiplied. Discouraged but not quitters, we continued on our search for information on how to kill them off. Notice I went from ridding the garden to killing them off; these bugs have a tendency of augmenting the anger factor or the gardener… Hey no one is perfect!
The second seemingly good suggestion we found was to spray our potato garden with bran. Yes, this seemed weird to us as well but it was said that they would eat the bran and it would cause devastating indigestion and kill them.
Good gardeners as we wanted to be we drove 55 minutes to get bran and a fairly high cost. We applied the Bran on all our plants and waited until the next morning to investigate the results. No fewer beetles the next day and seemingly they had become even more aggressive, more in numbers and much more determined to survive. I get the feeling the bran only elevated their energy level. The next suggestion was to kill the mothers, inspect every leaf for yellow egg pods and pluck all the larvae off the plants. Believe it or not we tried this for 3 days and they just kept coming back, bigger, faster and stronger than ever.
My wife and I had come to the conclusion that we had better remove whatever potatoes we had and take our losses as a lesson learned. The beetles eventually after 10 days from spotting the first one totally ravaged our plants down to the ground. Not only leaves were eaten but the stems themselves. They inflicted total destruction.
Now we were somewhat discouraged about our losses but these are choice we make to remain organic. We could have put what they call potato powder on them and killed off the entire colony but then we would have fed non-organic pesticide infested potatoes to our child. That was not going to happen.
You would think that is the end of our potato beetle nightmare but no these were the most persistent insects we had even had to deal with. Once they had eaten 100% of our potato garden they them trotted all the way to our vegetable garden. We soon found out their second favourite meal was peppers which we luckily planted to the extreme left of our garden. They also enjoy eating tomatoes plants which we would not allow, period.
Luckily for us the beetles seemed to have lived the course of their life and once they made the transfer from potatoes to tomatoes they didn’t seem to have as much oomph! They were weaker, less in numbers and eventually by picking them off, a few a day for weeks, we salvaged our entire vegetable garden. They wanted potatoes and that was all. To the point I was standing on my balcony about 150ft from the potato garden and I saw several of these determined little pests walking up my driveway, crossed the road and found another garden approximately a total of 275 ft from our garden that they destroyed. I will give them one thing. They are the most persistent, hungry and determined living things we have ever encountered. It amazing how such a pretty insect can cause so much damage. We lost this battle but were going to fight the war, year after year, until we pull out more potatoes than we planted.