How to Deal with Pests in the Vegetable Garden

Every growing season I work myself up into a lather over the triad of pests that aim to ruin my crops: flea beetles, leaf miners and squash vine borers. The flea beetles eat tiny holes in crops with bitter-tasting leaves, such as kale, cabbage, broccoli and even potatoes. Planting those crops by seed is disastrous as the flea beetles chomp the seedlings right down to nearly nothing. My method of combating flea beetles as of late has been to purchase transplants, slightly larger plants than just seedlings, thereby giving the plant a better chance of surviving the onslaught. I end up with holey leaves, but that’s okay.

The leaf miners’ maggot stage literally mines its way between the top and bottom layer of leaves of beets and Swiss chard. The damage looks like clear or muddy colored tunneling to various degrees. Because the leaf miner is taking away chlorophyll, the plants’ growth is slowed. For beets the damage is cosmetic unless you’re like me and actually use the beet greens for cooking. For chard, I try to salvage the portions of the leaves that haven’t been affected.

Lastly, the squash vine borer fly drills its eggs into the base of a squash vine—or it’s eggs are laid on top the eggs work their way into the vine, not quite sure about which method is correct. Either, the eggs develop into larvae, which then eat or “bore” their way through the vine. Without the vine’s fluid-pumping cells, the squash plant collapses like it hasn’t been watered.

We’re midway through the season and so far, so good. I’ve been using a product called Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew. The active ingredient in this natural product is something called spinosad, a chemical that is produced by a soil bacterium first isolated from a shallow pool at an abandoned rum distillery in the Caribbean. Spinosad is toxic to all sorts of insects including bagworms, gypsy moths, beetles, caterpillars, leaf miners and more. Not toxic to humans, it kills insects in one to two days.

I’ve used this Deadbug Brew in previous years, but this year I’m being consistent with its application. After every time I water my vegetable garden I apply the Deadbug Brew using the hose-end applicator bottle. I use enough to cover the leaves, or in the case of squashes, I spray it inside the leaf canopy and onto the mass of vines. I also apply it after a rainstorm. I had some early flea beetle damage to my kale transplants and to my arugula, but once I started the consistent application the damage was much, much less. The first flush of chard leaves were riddled with tunnels, but again, after the consistent application of Deadbug Brew, I have absolutely no leafminer damage. My second crop of arugula, which you can see in the above photo, has little to no damage so far. And the squash plants are doing well, too, although the squash vine borers don’t usually hit until the second half of summer. Fingers crossed!

Meet Ellen Wells

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