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The Usual Suspects: Pests and Challenges, Part I

June 28, 2014
I planted several beds of flowers to attract beneficial insects; to pollinate and to feed on pest insects.

I planted several beds of flowers to attract beneficial insects; to pollinate and to feed on pest insects.

The 2014 season has started off with the usual pests: flea beetles, cucumbers beetles, gophers and voles. One common pest that has not made much of an appearance, due to the dry weather is slugs. I am not complaining, since they will probably come back with a vengeance when the fall rains arrive.

Beautiful, unblemished Lacinato kale

Beautiful, unblemished Lacinato kale

Flea beetles love arugula and mustard greens and will chew tiny holes in the leaves of plants. Don’t’ they know we want to eat the leaves without any holes? The way to prevent flea beetles from eating the leaves is to cover them up with floating row cover. When we planted out the arugula, mizuna, Pink Lettucy and Vivid Choi, we did just that. It worked great for the Pink Lettucy and Vivid Choi, but the row cover we put over the mizuna and arugula had some small holes. You just can’t have ANY holes in the row cover, because those flea beetles will find them and get to the plants. That is exactly what happened. The arugula and mizuna were destroyed by the flea beetles. I was also concerned about the kale, since the flea beetles got to it last year. We covered that up with floating row cover and when we uncovered it to start harvesting, it was beautifully untouched by the beetles. We seem to be past the peak of the flea beetles now. They do hit the tomatoes and eggplant some, but since we don’t eat the leaves, it is not so much of a problem. We’ll plant the greens again for the fall.

Lemon cucumbers under floating row cover

Lemon cucumbers under floating row cover

Beets and chard were the first plants hit by the cucumber beetles. There are two kinds: a spotted one, that looks something like a yellow lady bug and a striped one, that is, well, striped. The spotted ones got to the beets and chard. There would be one, maybe two beetles on a plant and I would squish whatever bugs I found. Then we put out the winter squash and the striped beetle showed up. Sometimes there were lots of beetles on one plant. I would squish as many as I could before they got away. They didn’t hit the summer squash quite as much, and just to be sure, we covered the cucumbers with floating row cover to keep them out. Now that the cucumbers are bigger, we need to take that cover off so other insects can get to the flowers to pollinate them. Last year, we lost a lot of cucumbers (the fruit itself) to the cosmetic damage the beetles do to the skin. We can only wait and see what will happen this year. I don’t know how many bugs I would have to squish to put a dent in their population.

One of the raptor poles

One of the raptor poles

The floating row cover works great to keep out the insects, but it gives the gophers and voles a place to hide. So far, we have had only a few incursions into the fields from gophers and voles. For these critters, we take a multi-pronged approach: trapping, Rodenating, and encouraging predators. I trapped gophers all winter, but they weren’t very active until March. To date this year, we have caught  56 in traps. Steven’s dad has been coming out to help this spring and has been using the Rodenator on the gophers and voles. It is hard to tell if it is working, but we hope it is. As for predators, first, we put up a couple poles for raptors to perch on to hunt our fields for voles. We still have more to put up, but I have to confess, I haven’t seen them used by many raptors. What I have seen are feral cats catching voles in our fields. At the end of April, we discovered a feral cat with a litter of kittens in our chicken coop….actually in the coop. The chickens were not happy, but I was. This was our chance to keep some good hunters around. We moved the kittens out of the coop into a box and started feeding the mother cat. She has stayed around with her four kittens, though she moved them out of the box. I don’t see the kittens much right now, but I see the mother cat, often with a vole in her mouth. I am hopeful.

The feral kittens at three weeks

The feral kittens at three weeks

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. beth parker permalink
    June 29, 2014 8:13 pm

    I would like to order some fresh vegetables. If you like you can leave my orders at Bo’s and you won’t have to come all the way over here (2 miles more). I don’t get many things, but there will be lots of folks here for August.    —    beth parker

  2. Mary Ellen McCluggage permalink
    July 7, 2014 7:16 am

    Wow, I learn so much when I read your posts. Raptor poles? Cats eat voles?
    I’m excited that the kittens will provide company and a vole-less garden.

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