Thursday, July 14, 2011

Colorado Potato Beetle

A bucket of Colorado Potato Beetles (and larvae) is bad news.  These beetles can devastate potato, tomato and eggplant crops.  The beetle originated in the Southwest and Mexico and spread across the country in the 1880s.  Now they are also found across Europe and Asia.

In four or five weeks, females can lay over 500 eggs.  Potato Beetles mature in three weeks from hatching, and three generations can occur in a single year.  They can quickly defoliate their favored crops.

Populations were controlled by DDT until the 1950s, but the beetles became resistant to this and subsequent pesticides.  Farmers have experimented with natural controls like a ground beetle and a fungus with mixed results. Natural controls also are dangerous since their effects on other aspects of the environment are often unexpected.

About.com gives the following advice if you encounter Colorado Potato Beetles in your garden: crush eggs by hand (you will find these yellow masses on the underside of leaves), hand pick adults and larvae (drop them in a bucket of soapy water), use a barrier around young seedlings to keep beetles off, plant crops that mature early, and weed the garden before spring beetles emerge (the beetles will feed on a variety of weeds if their favored crops are absent). The bucket of beetles in my photograph is from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm near Northfield.

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