bug season!

Pests & Pathogens

Fast growing plants mean lots of bugs. I suppose we have to expect this.

Flea beetles: These are eating tiny holes in my potatoes again this year. Last year I was worried about this and added lots of marigolds to the bed. The beetles went away. But I think its just the natural course of events that once the leaves fill out and the season progresses, the beetles go away. They like the dust. So I’m ignoring them.

Leaf miners:
I have a minor problem with leaf miners on my spinach. Also on my beet leaves. I’ll just ignore this. I dispose of affected leaves and eat the others.

Cutworms: A few cut worms here and there in my garden. I found a big fat one chewing on a broccoli seedling today. My parents have had them on cucumber, cabbage, tomatoes, and broccoli this year. I looked up the list of what plants cutworms eat: Beans, Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Collards, Cucumbers, Endive, Kale, Lettuce, Lima Beans, Melons, Muskmelons, Onions, Parsley, Parsnips, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Radishes, Snap Beans, and Sweet Corn. Just about anything, I guess!

Mystery bugs: The worst problem is my broccoli and baby bok choy. I covered these seedlings with row cover and checked today under the cover today. Arrghh! Some bug has been eating well! I covered to keep the cabbage worm off. I looked hard and couldn’t find any of the fat bright green worms on the stems or leaves. These are usually pretty easy to find if you look close. What I did find if the bugs here:

two bugs on bok choy

I think they are young leaf hoppers. I submitted the photo to Bug ID. (I always enjoy their answers. Not only ID, but age, sex and other info.) I asked the experts if these guys could be responsible for the damage. I’ll keep watching for their answer.

Here’s what my broccoli and bok choy look like:

broccoli patch
holy bok choy eaten broccoli

My parent’s broccoli, bok choy, cabbage and similar greens look the same.

I have no idea how to get rid of the problem. Usually my approach is to not worry about the bugs and grow something else instead. But I really do like broccoli and bok choy. So, I dug up the little plants and moved them to my community plot. Maybe with more sun, they can outgrow the pest? I think I’ll add some fertilizer tomorrow too. I’m starting to think about an organic pesticide, like BT or rotenone. I’ve never tried these. So much for the row covers. I took them off for now. And I’ll watch for the bug ID so at least I can know what’s doing the damage.

Note added Monday: I haven’t heard from BugGuide yet, but I think my bugs in the photo are winged aphids. I’ve been looking at similar photos on line. A couple aphids won’t do much damage. But Daphne had a suggestion that I think is the real answer. SLUGS! I bet they are crawling under the covers at night! These guys can do lots of serious damage!

Slugs: I hate to say it, but I use the regular box of slug and snail poison bait. (Ortho Bug Getta) It gets rid of them. (I got tired of walking across my patio in the dark barefoot and stepping on a six inch slug.) I use it sparingly in the locations where there is a problem. Slugs especially like my basil and zinnias. I’ll try a little under my broccoli covers and bring some up to my parents’ garden.

And something’s eating my rose pretty seriously too. I’ll have to remember to look closely to see what bugs I can find on it.

27 Comments. Leave new

  • I’ve got a bug issue too… something is chewing up my beans good and I am not sure what to do just yet. Ergh… I hope you get some answers on your bugs soon.

  • I’ve got major bug issues too. I try to ignore most of them and hope they sort themselves out but every now and then one comes along that you cannot ignore. My current problem is pill bugs (aka roly polies). They don’t cause any damage in small numbers but I have a major infestation and they are mowing down my seedlings one by one.

  • Ha! I just found out flea beetles are responsible for the millions of tiny holes in my potato leaves. I sprayed them this morning with a mixture of water, dish soap, garlic, and red pepper. Hopefully they go away.

  • I have not had many bug problems yet except root maggots ate all the roots off one broccoli plant. It will be interesting to find out what that bug is, it really did a number on that broccoli plant. I have used pyrethrine in the past, it is made from the Chrysanthemum plant. It is a good choice if it is a plant that is not in flower. The bok choy should outgrow the problem, mine grew really fast before they bolted. I could have harvested about 20 days after transplant.

  • We just bought some rotenone to get rid of the flea beetles on our potatoes – but!!! As it turns out, it’s NO LONGER ORGANIC. They nixed it from the organic list due to health concerns. Yes, yes, it’s made from plant roots – but if you want to get technical (and who doesn’t?) – they took it off the approved organic list back in 2005 (according to wikipedia) – which is why I guess none of the packages say “Organic!” We’ll use it, but very sparingly, and far away from harvest time.

  • I feel your pain! Yes, down in Southeastern MA we are dealing with much of the same. I was thankful for the sunshine yesterday to get the plants growing — to gain strength and size to combat these pests. Argh! I have tried soap spray and insecticidal soap spray against aphids and flea beetles …. I don’t know, maybe it’s helping some, but it doesn’t look like it. 🙁

  • Those beetles you ID’d for me have found my potatoes, I pulled 6 off yesterday. The bug hunt is officially on here too.

    My friend is having a similar problem with some of your bugs??: “These flee beetles ‘hop’, so you must take a tomato cage around the plant, wrap in saran wrap (keep top open and about an inch on the botom, and you will be good since the flee beetles hop and they won’t be able to get in. Other than non-organic bug stuff — this is the one sure way to keep your eggplants! You can remove once plant has grown up abit.” I think a small scale commercial organic grower gave her that tip.

  • I’m going to guess that you have a bad slug infestation since that is usually what mows down my brassicas under my row cover. Have you checked for slugs at night or really early in the morning? They hide during the day so you can’t check then. I hand pick every morning (before 7) and that provides pretty good control. Though it is disgusting and slimy. I’ve heard others use iron phosphate (Sluggo) which is a pretty innocuous insecticide for slugs.

  • Our chard also has leaf miners, which not too surprsing I guess since chard is realated to beets. I pull off the afflicted leaves and give them to our chickens; it's meat & veg for them! We had them last year too, and once the chard gets big enough the plants can take the assault pretty well and still thrive.

  • Thanks Daphne – I bet you’re right! I have some slug-stuff in the garage.

    Though I haven;t heard back from BugGuide, I think the photo is aphids. Some larger winged ones. I don;t think a couple of these would cause the mount of damage I have. I don’t usually worry about aphids.

    But I think I’ll invest in some BT and maybe rotenone for use sparingly, along with some slug control under the covers.

    Phyllis, That’s one of the reasons I don’t grow chard, it seems to get too many leaf miners for me. Even more than spinach and beets. Yuck.

  • In the past I’ve used diatomaceous earth for flea, potato, and cucumber beetles. It kept all of these at bay until the plants were big and strong and the beetle seasons waned. I applied it after rain because it doesn’t work when wet.

    I haven’t had to deal with slugs… until this year. So, we’ll see how that goes.

  • Well you’re taking it better than I would. I just get sick to my stomach when I discover bus eating my plants. I hope you can get this stopped!

  • Thats suppose to say bugs instead of bus! LOL

  • Hello Kathy, I got a slug and cutworm problem and the holes on your greens look exactly like mine. I got a brussel sprout plant that may have a cutworm? It chews off one “branch” every night at the base of the stem and there’s a hole in the ground at the base of the plant. Looks like it’s burrowing. This would explain why the plants next door aren’t affected. Apparently the burrowing insect doesn’t like to travel! Good thing too!

  • We interplanted radishes among our potatoes in one bed, and have just potatoes in another–the radishes really seem to keep the flea beetles out. (These are radishes we plan to leave in, they’re not going to be eaten.)

  • Regarding slugs, you should know that the active ingredient in Ortho Bug Getta is metaldehyde, which is a neurotoxin commonly responsible for accidental poisoning of dogs.

    Looking at your pictures, I’d suggest you think about a different mulch–large mulches, leaves, etc gives slugs a lot of places to hide during the day. I would bet anything that if you raked through your mulch, you’d find a lot of them sleeping under there–it’s cold, damp, and out of direct sunlight. A smaller/finer cover treatment makes it harder for them to live in your bed. Also, snails and slugs aren’t fond of plants with strong oils, so some people think that growing herbs among vegetables can help reduce mollusk pests.

    This is a good article on IPM methods for dealing with slugs and snails, if you’re interested: http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7427.html

  • I use BT and if you use it regularly it works great. It doesnt kill them. It just makes them stop eating (okay, which they eventually starve to death) but their offspring usually show up a week later so you have to keep spraying. I use Neem oil for the rest. Just dont spray it when it is hot. The oil will burn the leaves. It seems to melt the critters on contact. I sue it maily for spider mites and it also treats all types of fungus which is a real problem here in the Texas gulf.

  • An old Pennsylvania solution to slugs is beer. Yep. Beer. Put about an inch in a low cup…one a slug could crawl into, but struggle to get out of. Place this in the garden and at night, the slugs tend to enter, but not exit. Gross…I know. We are still working on a solution to aphids. Whiskey? Just kidding!!

  • The bugs are terrible this year. Thanks for the information about slugs. We have a lot of slugs here and they love gardens. Grrrr. Last year, I ended up throwing all but two heads of broccoli out as when I dipped them before freezing, I had worms galore. The buggers are hard to spot. Great informative post. Thank you and good luck!

  • I prefer using iron phosphate to repel slugs (e.g., a product like Sluggo). It’s safer and non-toxic to pets.

  • I’ve been having a lot of pest problems with my garden as well 🙁 The blueberry bush is taking on the worst damage. I’m thinking it’s cutworms. I hand picked a few and it stopped the damage for a few weeks but something’s eating it up again.

    As for the slugs, we have TONS, but a nightly slug/snail hunt helped decrease the population drastically and spreading a thick layer of coffee grounds keeps them off my veggie bed. It works wonders in my garden!

  • I had tons of bugs last season in the veggie garden. I had 2 plans of attack that seemed to work really well. I sprayed Safer Insecticidal soap (the one that has the fungicide in addition to the soap so I got a 2-for-1 impact) every few days and I also used Spinosad (which is very similiar to BT much longer lasting and more effective). The Spinosad worked wonders on the leaf loopers on the broccoli and the Safter soap took care of everything else from flea beetles to aphids to leaf miners to mildew and fungus. Spinosad is organic and works on just about every type of catepillar or larvae. You can spray it as a preventative on vines of squash before the vine borers start boring (I did this too late last year and they already got in the stems but this year I’m spraying earlier). You can get spinosad online at Planet Natural:


    I’ve used the Montery Garden Brand of Spinosad spray and it’s easy to use.

    For slugs I used beer baits as well as strips of aluminum foil around the stems of affected plants.

    Good luck!


  • Mother Earth News just ran an interesting article on using chickens as pest control. I wonder how shared community chickens would work?

  • Kathy … indeed the brassica problem IS slugs. I too like Iron Phosphate. One more thing about slugs is that they will have blooms so you have to watch and put down the pellets ever 3-4 weeks. Also, don't over do the pellets, You only need a few per sq ft. and they are unnaturally expensive for simple iron phosphate.


  • My broccoli plants are filled with holes too. It is the cabbage worms, and we have been picking them off and giving them to the scrub jays. I worry about using organic sprays. I read a mixture of flour and cayenne pepper would cause the worms to burst, but I haven't tried that yet. I use the sluggo too, but I also worry about using too much of that. I've tried to search for the slugs/snails with a flashlight, but I usually can't find them. I wonder if I should have released some beneficial insects earlier in the season. I just hope the bugs don't win.

  • For the broccoli and other plants too, try 1inch high circles of white cardboard (I use cut-up english muffin package sewn together). This really worked well in my garden this year. None of my broccoli was eaten, whereas last year very little survived. I meant to do this with my chard as well, but I guess I must not have been as religious about it because some of it was eaten.

  • I love your blog! The pictures are great and the content is so helpful. I hope my garden (going to start my first one soon) will someday be as great as yours!


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