Insects – Pests

Top 6 pests / bugs to watch out for:

The trick to a great garden is to eliminate the harmful insects safely without then KILLing the Good Guys. At our place, we haven’t used a chemical insecticide for close to 25 years – guess you could say we qualify as organic. Dunno. I just know I hate the smell of the garden chemicals when I go past them on the shelf at Flowerland or Meijers. In order to avoid using those chemicals, I prefer the option “prevention is the best cure”. And the first thing is to identify the Bad Boy Pests beFORE you can prevent them from doing damage.

1. Spotted Cucumber Beetle and Striped Cucumber Beetle.
One of the most destructive insects – looks harmless – looks like a Ladybug. But this benign looking critter can destroy a vegetable garden – even if there are no cucumbers planted: it carries a virus called Bacterial Wilt that attacks many types of the vining vegetables such as squash, zukes or cukes. The plants are most susceptible when they are very young – adult cuke beetles chew the leaves and stems, while the babies (larva) chew the roots. And after a plant is infected, it’s all over- there is no cure. Prevention: besides Beneficial/Predator insects – Row covers are probably the most effective organic control.

2. Aphids, Aphidae, Aphidoodle, Aphle dumpling : ). Many shapes, sizes, and colors, but usually green. Typically seen on rose bushes, ants love to “farm” them (if you watch long enough, you can see the ants “herd” them around, like cows … of course, if you have time enough to watch ants farm aphids, well – you may need a hobby : ). The aphids live in colonies, and do their damage by sucking the juices from whatever plant they are on. Prevention: Beneficial/Predator insects. Also, capture the flying buggers with sticky tape (sold at Flowerland/Meijers) – spray the aphids directly, as well as the plant. Cut away and dispose of infested foliage. Also, Also, try an spray of diluted Tide or Dawn soap mixed with some vegetable oil (see recipe*, below). That’s to keep them clean for their evening party. Or, it may suffocate them, not sure which. Note: aphids are drawn to birch trees. Don’t mean for you to cut the birch trees down, just thought you’d like to know – maybe plan a garden away from birch trees? Note #2: Rid your garden of ants. Ants love to eat the sugary sap (honeydew) (ok, “pooh-pooh”) secreted by aphids, and will “farm” the aphids to get more of the pooh-pooh. For to have a pooh-pooh party)

3. Striped Blister Beetle Epicauta vittata (Fabricius). Late Summer bug. Can arrive in large armies almost overnight – and any type of vegetable is in jeopardy – but especially tomatoes, squash, beans, melons and peppers. Careful with crushing these crits: the name “blister” is for a reason – if they get on the skin, they can cause the skin to blister. Prevention: Beneficial/Predator insect. Also, one method to try is sprinkle flour on the adults – it acts like a glue – gums the beetle’s legs and wings up, and they fall to the ground and die.

4. Tomato Hornworms, Manduca quinquemaculata. More ferocious-looking than they really are – that horn on the back used to scare the dickens out of me as a kid, when mother had us weed the garden. These green caterpillars are babies of the Five Spotted Hawk Moth. They feed on plants of the nightshade family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes. They have voracious appetites and can strip a tomato plant of its foliage almost overnight. When you see bare stems on the tomato (or other nightshade) plant, that is a sign of tomato hornworm damage – look for the critter and kill him – and where there is one, there is usually more. Note: The small white things hanging off of the hornworm in this image are the pupae of a small parasitic bracnoid wasp. If you find a hornworm in this condition, it is already doomed. The wasp larvae that were using it for a host have consumed much of its insides. The pupae will hatch, and the new wasps will fly away to find new hornworms to infect. Simply move the infected “host” hornworm to a non-food source, allowing the brachnoid wasps time to mature. Prevention: Beneficial/Predatory insects. Handpicking them off the plants (and if you’re bored, toss out a couple on the driveway – the birds go nuts over them).

5. Grasshoppers, crickets are of the order Orthopetera, which also include locusts and katydids (photo below shows the visual difference between a grasshopper, cricket and a katydid). Other differences: grasshoppers have a short antennae, are daytime eaters and a several inches long – crickets have a much longer antennae, are nighttime eaters and usually around 2 inches, katydids resemble leaves, and are usually up in the treetops, not in your garden.

Grasshoppers are one more eating machine – they’ll strip the plant bare. We don’t have a huge problem with grasshoppers in Michigan (they like the dry, arid temperature in Nebraska, Texas, Kansas), but eeeeeehvery once in a while, I’ll see one. From spring (as nymphs) and throughout the growing season, if left unchecked, they’ll consume corn, beans, peppers, peas, broccoli and squash. They can travel in great numbers, and will eat their way through gardens. Prevention: Predatory insects – especially Praying Mantis. Also, try an organic bait containing Nosema locustae. This sickens the grasshoppers, and healthy ones eat the sick ones, in turn becoming sick themselves. Try growing tall grass or weeds around the perimeter of your garden but don’t mow or let it dry out and/or try planting zinnias or some other flower or vegetation outside the garden – helps keep the grasshopper/crickets out of the garden by giving them something ELSE to eat besides your garden :). Should one or two grasshoppers stray to your vegetable plants hand pick them and squish them. Once a high population of these pests is established, nothing is effective against them, even the most potent, toxic insecticides. At that point, all the gardener can do is to pray for cold weather (which will kill the bugs) and start planning for this year’s cool season or next year’s spring garden.

6. Leaf-footed Bugs, of the Family Coreidae. Identified by the wide spot on each hind leg resembling a small leaf. They suck the sap and juices from plants. Usually they attack fruit crops, but they are not very picky and will happily consume any plant available. They tend to be found in groups. The young Leaf-footed Bugs are small red or orange creatures with black legs. Each time that the nymphs molt into another version it is known as an instar. Control can be difficult if large populations are in your gardens. Prevention: Beneficial/Predator insects. Also, plain old hand picking – they don’t bite, they move slowly and are not disturbed easily (i.e., dumb) so hand picking is easily done.

*Insecticidal Soap Recipe
Homemade Insecticidal Soap
Two tablespoons of your favorite dishwashing detergent to one gallon of water. Pour in a spray bottle and spray the infected plant(s).

A drop or two of cooking oil can be used to make the soap stick if you’d like. Not entirely necessary.

Be sure to spray both the top and the bottom of the leaves. And do not spray on a hot sunny day because sun scald might occur. In fact, it’s best to do any type of spraying in the morning (that includes sprinkling / watering the garden) – gives the plant time to dry off. Sprinkly / spraying at night can encourage mold on the plants.

This is also an excellent preparatory spray for bringing in houseplants for the winter. You’d be surprised what leeeetle critters are on the undersides of the leaves : )


Another tip to attract (and destroy) Japanese Beetles:
Japanese Beetle MixThis recipe is to be used in the height of the Japanese Beetle season.


•1 cup water
•1/4 cup sugar
•1 mashed banana
•1 pkg yeast
Mix all ingredients in a milk jug. Place the jug (with the top off) in an area where Japanese Beetles gather. The bugs to in but not out.

A very organic way to go after those beetles.

Yeehah! Get a room … (Japanese Beetles mating)


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