It sure seems as if the growth of our potato and tomato plants has been matched by the arrival of the Colorado Potato Beetle. These pests, distinguished by their zebra-striped backs and hearty size (relative to the three-striped beetle that is) have made camp on our potato plants, unafraid to visit the nearby tomatoes.
Contrary to their name, the Colorado Potato Beetle is an invasive species that arrived here from Mexico. In Mexico however, the beetles are not pests because they are controlled by natural predators and distinct environmental conditions. In Vermont, we the gardeners are tasked with the predator role.
Our primary method of control has been careful, daily picking. I quite enjoy the act. It provides the opportunity to tune into each plant, touching its leaves and giving it a good once-over from above and below. I tend to carry a jar of soapy water and gently drop the adults, larvae, and eggs into the jar as they appear on the plants. Picking beetles is time consuming and, despite our best efforts, has not noticeably reduced the population. In fact, it appears to be growing – which makes sense as each cluster of eggs represents the beginnings of 10-30 beetles.
We’ve decided to introduce a foliar spray, hoping to get ahead of the problem and protect the potatoes growing below. We’ve begun an experiment of sorts – spraying a homemade garlic-chili repellent on one-half of the crops (recipe below), and using a store-bought Neem Oil on the other half. Results to follow…
As I said, pests are matched by growth and growth allows for bountiful, colorful harvest:
And the recipe for the garlic-chili spray:
·5 garlic cloves
·2 Tbsp hot pepper flakes
·3 cups water
·½ small onion
·1 tsp liquid soap
Put all the ingredients (except for the liquid soap) in a blender. Blend well until the solids are broken down. Transfer to a container and mix in 1 tsp of dish soap. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Strain through a sieve and discard the solid bits. Use a spray bottle to evenly distribute the liquid over the foliage in order to deter the beetles from laying eggs.
Cool weather and a good heavy rain offered sweet relief to our brassicas and good conditions for transplanting starts from the solanaceae family. Solanaceae, also called nightshades, are characterized by their flowering plants and include the many varieties of potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, and peppers.
The transplant was quite similar to the transplanting of the brassica family. Tomatoes require slightly more attention as they tends to grow into heavily fruit-bearing and therefore top-heavy plants. Our tomato transplants ranged from about six to twelve inches and had a soft, white fuzz quality to the bottom half of the stalk. This fuzz is the beginning of what will become a strong root system, and therefore wants to be submerged fully underground. Tomatoes want to be planted in a hole that is one-half as deep as their overall height (at the time of transplant). This requires the careful removal of low-growing branches. Finally, removing all flowers and suckers will encourage the plant to allocated its energy to the establishment of a strong and developed root system. This is crucial to the health of the plant.
Here is Carolina offering guidance on tomato planting:
Eggplant and peppers need not be buried as deep as the tomato. Just slightly above the existing soil line is fine. Pinching off any premature flowering will improve the health of the plant. Below is Alex choosing what to plant from a variety of peppers!
As for the tomatillo, the transplant is just like that of the eggplant and the pepper. The plant itself though will grow to be quite large and so we’ve dedicated one of our communal beds to the tomatillo crop. To no surprise, the three-striped potato beetle arrived within two weeks of planting.
Also called the three-lined potato beetle, this pest can live off of the leaves of any member of the solanaceae family but has a preference for the tomatillo. We had the opportunity to observe about twenty beetles spread across our five tomatillo plants. It was mid-morning, they were mating, and the backsides of the plant’s leaves were marked with the yellow-orange eggs of the next generation. These pests cannot merely be pulled off of the plant. They must be removed from the garden – either in a tightly sealed container or in a cup of soapy water. The eggs need only to be wiped off of the leaves for the newborns require immediate sustenance and will not survive if born away from their food source. Read on for a more thorough look at the three-striped potato beetle.