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Potato Beetles – Organic Pest Control – Programmed Responses

From my own experience as a new gardener 37 years ago, the questions I receive from readers, and comments I see on various forums, it seems that even “organic” gardeners turn to chemicals (but one approved for organic use) when something goes wrong in their gardens – be it pests or disease.

Why We Do What We Do

Our beliefs have the biggest influence on our actions. The belief behind the action of reaching for various chemicals (whether organic or not) is usually that it will be the easiest, quickest, and most efftive way to solve our problem.

What we often don’t realize until we think it through, is that our belief has been influenced (programmed) by advertising and often has nothing to do with truth or facts.

Once we realize where our “belief” comes from we can start questioning it and asking ourselves if there is way just as good or better that works with nature, is not harmful, and doesn’t even require a purchase.

Falling for the Hype

As regular readers know, I started gardening in order to have something to eat. Needless to say I didn’t have money for purchased “organic pest controls”. My poverty served me well on that account.

But at times when we were making a little money, I still fell for the advertising that indicated this or that organic spray was just what I needed to be rid of whatever problem it was that I was having. If I had the money, I had to have it.

What I realized over time was that I only really needed a tiny amount of what I had purchased.

I found out over the years that it took just as much time to

  • mix the product,
  • haul it to garden,
  • spray it on at the designated time of day,
  • go back and do another batch or two to complete the job,

as it did to use other methods that required absolutely nothing but me in the garden. And the more simple methods always seemed more effective as well as less time consuming in the long run.

Embarrassing Admission

As I’ve mentioned previously in posts, I’m embarrassed to say that I have bottles of Pyola and another product I can’t even remember the name of, sitting unopened for more than 10 years.  I gave into that “this is just what you need” advertising when I bought them and then never used them for the reasons given above.

About Potato Beetles

These beetles are probably the most dread insect defoliator of potatoes.  (They can also do damage to tomato and eggplant which are in the nightshade family of plants.)

Adults winter over in the soil and those who research these beetles have found that some of the adults can spend two years in the soil before emerging.

One female can lay 300 to 800 eggs!  The larvae are able to move and spread out over the plants and can eat a lot. Left unchecked they can destroy the entire crop.

My Experience with Potato Beetles

Over the years, I’ve had more than my fare share of Colorado Potato Beetles.

My main method of control has always been hand picking even back years ago when I was inundated with hundreds and hundreds of beetles.  When we first moved to this property (home of my second garden), I was again inundated with beetles the first few years.  After that, the number was sparse.

In the spring when potato foliage first starts, it’s easy to check for beetles and their larvae as I tour the garden.  I usually find one on a few small potatoes that have sprouted in an out of the way place such as a path.

I guess those first beetles are ones that over wintered in my soil. After that I don’t see any for several weeks and then I’ll have another small flurry of beetle activity.

As the summer goes on I find an occasional one here and there.

A section with Butte potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm that has of this writing July 25th, remained free of Potato Beetles.

A bed planted with Butte potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm. As of this writing July 25th, I have found only 2 potatoes beetles. (Of course I killed them.)

Another’s Approach

Someone who was growing far less potatoes than I, once told me they couldn’t control them by handpicking because they had too many.  They claimed they had to use a spray even if it killed their bees. (She considered herself to be an organic gardener.  I feel there is more to being an organic gardener than using a product that is “approved” for use in an organic garden.)

A Professional Potato Grower

Jim Gerritsen is president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association. He has served as president of the Organic Seed Alliance and continues to serve on the OSA board.

He and his wife, Megan, have owned and operated Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater Maine for 35 years. Their farm has been MOFGA-certified organic since 1982. Jim focuses on producing organic early generation Maine Certified Seed Potatoes, seed crops, vegetables and grain.

The Gerritsens sell through their mail order catalog and their website (wwwwoodprairie.com). In addition they sell wholesale to several national mail order seed houses.

Jim is pretty busy I’d say.

Another Grower Asks Jim for Advice on Potato Beetle Control

I got the most recent newsletter via email the other day from Wood Prairie Farm. A potato grower had written to Jim for advice on control of the CPB (Colorado Potato Beetle). He had been spraying with bullseye (spinosad based) and copper soap. (Just for the record on where I stand on that: spinosad kills beneficials too and is not something I would use; nor is copper soap.)

The grower went on to say “Until last week we would see only a CPB or two in our five rows totaling 250 feet. This morning, after that horrendous storm, there were hundreds of CPB in every stage, instar and adults.

—I am perplexed, and wondering what you do for CPB. There were too many nymphs to hand pick this AM. —“

 Jim Gerritsen answers:

“One year in the 1980s when CPBs were horrible we had a double row of potatoes isolated from the rest which was 300′ long. I was determined to control them ONLY by picking and crushing. I was out there 2x – 3x/week. It was a battle, but I won. That proved to me manual control can work on a scale of up to 500-600 row feet. “

I hope you found Jim’s success as encouraging as I did.

Giving the Grower an Option

Jim gave the grower options in case the grower felt his situation needed something extreme. Thus, I felt I had better include the rest of his answer in this post.

He continued, “As to purchased organic inputs here are three to consider in your extremity:    

  • (‘Pyganic 5.0’) would give you the quickest knockdown at this point if you think spinosad (‘Entrust’) is not performing.
  • Good but slower-to-control remedies are neem (‘De-Bug Turbo’) and
  • The parasitic fungus Beavaria bassiana (‘Mycoltrol O’).

Final Thoughts

Many of our beliefs are programmed.  No doubt about that.  But I hope you will join me in thinking it out when you next desire to reach for a chemical, even if it has been approved for use in organic gardens.

You might just find like I have over the years, that working with nature doesn’t require purchased inputs and is just as effective, if not more so.

Yukon Gold produced from Wood Prairie seed potatoe just uncovered.

I’ve just unearthed this Yukon Gold potato produced from a Wood Prairie seed potato.

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Related Posts

Organic Gardening – Tempted to Give it Up?

Garden Strategy for Better Overall Garden Health

Bugs and/or Disease in Your Organic Garden Got You Down?

Organic Pest Control – Two Stories

Care of Plants – Organic Fertilizer- Organic Pesticides – Manures

Organic Pest Control – Eliminate the Cause

Garden Diversity Can Equal Better Organic Pest and Disease Control

Squash Bugs – It Ain’t Over ’til it’s Over

Growing Broccoli – Worm Control for the Organic Gardener

Squash Bugs – End of the the Season Strategy

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6 comments to Potato Beetles – Organic Pest Control – Programmed Responses

  • Steve

    Theresa,
    I truly admire your style of gardening. I am always encouraged that growing without chemicals can be done. I am not using chemicals at all this year not even soap. I would say I have a mixed bag of results. I lost my squash early on got only two fruit. Tomato blooms fell off after they set on a couple of clusters on each plant. Potatoes were fair harvest, garlic was a waste of time no fault of the ground/pests, Corn is really good not many ears etc. etc. The squash were in a bed that wood chips were not decomposed enough. I have gotten produce from the garden to be sure. But I always feel left out of a conversation when someone has much more produce than I because of the way they garden. I am committed to a lazy man approach and a purely natural garden. You are truly an inspiration and I am in gardening for the long haul. I know it can be done without buying stuff to treat plants.
    Steve

  • Susan Klein

    Hi Theresa,
    That’s a beautiful potato! Great advice again, as usual.
    Thanks!
    Susan

  • Theresa

    Steve, when you say “But I always feel left out of a conversation when someone has much more produce than I because of the way they garden”, I know exactly how you feel because I feel the same way. There are a few points to think on here.
    The overall thing to keep in mind is that things are not always as they seem. You’ll never know all the details involved in what someone else is doing.
    Then — more specifically consider these two things.
    #1 Hybrids are bred to produce fruit in abundance and more quickly, but at the expense of nutrition. My heirlooms are slow, but I feel really good about their fruit when they produce.
    #2 Chemical fertilizers (it’s called “forcing the ground”) give plants a quick shot and causes them to grow quickly.
    Left to nature, growth is a bit slower because nature chooses the right time for quick growth and when the time is right — if we’ve done our job preparing the soil properly — plants take off and make it over the long haul — sometimes all the way till frost. The gardens with the chemicals have usually been long gone by then.

    A garden working with nature has great rewards, but they are seldom visible to one who is untrained in her ways.

    Susan, good having you comment. That potato was DELICIOUS as well as beautiful!

    Theresa

  • Ray Kent

    A number of years ago I did use some sprays and then i read about Marigolds. I thought, why not they’re pretty in any case. Well I had the best year ever for pests. Fluke?? Same thing next year until I had Marigolds in every area. I read some more and again thought, why not. I now grow Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Lavender & Mint (I grow only in pots) mixed in with various veggies. I stopped there because I really like using my space for veggies. Does it really work? I just know I’m not working as much, my garden looks better & non gardeners are asking questions. My wife, a non gardener who has never liked the lavender scent is now a fan of the plant. Happy days are here!

  • Steve

    Theresa,
    I just had a baked russet potato from my garden tonight. I took them straight from the garden and put them in the refrigerated cooler until I use them. I must say I can’t remember having a potato tasting as good as this one. We will be sorry when they are gone, unhappy to say it will be before new potatoes are ready from the garden again. Flavor and freshness from the garden are absolutely worth whatever amount of produce, no matter how few.
    Thanks again for your encouragement to inspire me to grow a garden.
    Steve

  • Theresa

    I agree Steve. Flavor and freshness straight from the garden is unmatched. And there is nothing like your own potatoes. Glad to hear that I was part of your inspiration to grow a garden!
    Theresa

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