Jun 12th, 2009

Community Kitchen Garden: Weeds and Bugs – Two Guaranteed Occurrences in Gardening!

by Janine Butler, garden volunteer

In last week’s blog, I commented on how well all the plants had been growing over the last couple of weeks.  Well guess what else has been growing?  Yep, WEEDS!  I spent a good hour or so on Saturday using a cool tool called a scuffle hoe – you move it back and forth as if you were sweeping the floor, except instead of collecting dirt it wacks the top of the weeds off!  It works pretty well for the broadleaf weeds, but we also have some pesky wiry, grassy weed, which is a bit harder to get rid of.  We might have to find something else for those guys.

Also this week, we continued to put down lots and lots of mulch.  I am hoping that if we lay it down thick enough then we can squash the weeds!  I have to admit I am getting pretty good at mulching; it must be all the practice I am getting!  And something else I learned this week – mulch needs nitrogen to break it down, and tomatoes need nitrogen to grow.  Some of the mulch we have is a little ‘green’ and new, so we had to make sure that it doesn’t get too close to the plants, especially tomatoes.  You don’t really want the plants to work so hard to get the nitrogen from the soil so you should make sure that the mulch is about 12 inches from the plants.  In an ideal world you would have older mulch, but we need so much mulch that we have to take what we can get.

Tom Brinda, Assistant Executive Director, at Lewis Ginter updated me on some of the other things that they have been doing.  Basil seeds had been planted, and they were starting to sprout.  Soon we will have to thin them out a bit to make room and help them grow bigger.  The staff have also been feeding all the plants, because just like you and me they also need good food to help them grow!  Apparently you should feed every couple of weeks; we will do that in two ways 1) by using liquid food to “water” the plants, and 2) by side-feeding, where the plant food is sprinkled on the ground a few inches away from the plants to encourage good root growth.

We also had some mystery guests this week and they seem pretty fond of the eggplants and peppers.  We are still working to find out what these insects are.  These bugs are quite round in shape, and a brownish color.  I will try to take a photo of them the next time I am out there – if anyone has any ideas what they could be then let us know!  We had a new volunteer this week, a teenager and  Tom put him on bug removal duty.  I will stick to mulching thank you very much!

After bug duty the teenage finished planting zucchini seeds. I was really impressed by his enthusiasm — it’s great to see teenagers taking an interest in planting and growing stuff.

I have also been impressed lately by tales from my friends and neighbors who are growing their own veggies.  My neighbor Susan has already got a spicy green chili pepper (just one, but more should be on the way) and a couple of peas.  My friend’s husband Dan has a fantastic garden going on in his backyard – I am trying to rope him into volunteering here!

I hope that you too are all having success in your own gardens! And if you’d like to join the fun, remember we are here working on the Community Kitchen Garden at Lewis Ginter every Monday and Saturday from 9 am to noon, so stop by and give us some help, if you have a green thumb.

Janine Butler is a former Garden Volunteer.

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  • Renee P

    I was reading your latest blog about the Community Garden. I looked up online what bugs could be bothering your eggplants and pepper plants. I read that flea beatles eat eggplants. Is this picture the bug you have a problem with?
    The picture I found of them are round, blackish brown bugs. Unfortunately I could not transfer the picture to this comment. Here is an article I found that might help.


    Flea Beetles
    by W.S. Cranshaw1 (11/06)
    Quick Facts…

    Figure 1: Tobacco flea beetle.

    Figure 2: Crucifer flea beetle damage to broccoli..
    Flea beetles are small beetles that jump when disturbed.
    They damage plants by chewing small “shotholes” in the foliage.
    Flea beetles can be found on a wide variety of plants. However, most flea beetles attack only a few, closely related plant species.
    Flea beetle injury is most important when seedlings are becoming established or in the production of leafy vegetables. Injuries are usually minor and easily outgrown on established plants.
    Flea beetles are common pests of many vegetable Crops. They occasionally damage flowers, shrubs and even trees. Adult beetles, which produce most plant injuries, are typically small, often shiny, and have large rear legs that allow them to jump like a flea when disturbed.

    Flea beetles produce a characteristic injury known as “shotholing.” The adults chew many small holes or pits in the leaves, which make them look as if they have been damaged by fine buckshot. Young plants and seedlings are particularly susceptible. Growth may be seriously retarded and plants even killed. Leaf feeding also damages plant appearance. This can be important among certain ornamentals and for leafy vegetable Crops.

    Dozens of species of flea beetles are found in Colorado (Table 1). Although there is some overlap of tastes, each type of flea beetle has a decided preference for certain plants. For example, some flea beetles feed only on potatoes, tomatoes and other members of the nightshade family. Others have a taste for broccoli, cabbage and other cole Crops.

    Life History and Habits
    Flea beetles spend the winter in the adult stage, hidden under leaves, dirt clods or in other protected sites. They typically begin to become active during warm days in midspring but may straggle out over several weeks. Many flea beetles are strong fliers and seek out emerging host plants, which they locate by chemical cues the plants produce.

    The adults feed for several weeks. Soon the females intersperse feeding with some egg laying. They lay eggs in soil cracks around the base of the plants. The minute, worm-like larvae then move to feed on small roots and root hairs. With the exception of the tuber flea beetle, an occasional pest of potato tubers, larval feeding is not considered to cause significant plant injury. The larval stage is typically completed in about a month. The insects pupate, then emerge from the soil as adults. There may be a second generation during the summer and, with a few species, a third generation.

    Figure 3: Apple flea beetle.

    Figure 4: Potato flea beetles on tomato.
    Although flea beetles are common, injuries often are insignificant to plant health. On established plants, 10 to 20 percent or more of the leaf area must be destroyed before there is any effect on yields. The plants most likely to benefit from treatment are more sensitive seedlings, plants grown for ornamental purposes or for edible greens, and potatoes that may be affected by tuber flea beetle larvae.

    Cultural Controls
    Because seedlings are most at risk, use transplants or plant seeds in a well-prepared seedbed to hasten growth and allow plants to overcome injury. In home Gardens, try high seeding rates. Thin the plants once they are established.

    “Trap Crops” work in some situations. Plant a highly favored crop to attract flea beetles away from the main crop. Radish or daikon can protect other seedling crucifers (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) that are more sensitive to western cabbage flea beetle. The trap crop may then be harvested or destroyed after the main crop has established itself sufficiently to outgrow flea beetle injury.

    It may also be possible to avoid injury by scheduling plantings so that seedlings are emerging during periods of low flea beetle activity.

    Mechanical and Physical Controls
    Floating row covers or other screening can exclude the beetles during seedling establishment. In isolated plantings, thick mulches may also help reduce the number of flea beetles by interfering with activity of the root and soil stages. Flea beetles can be vacuumed off foliage, but this practice must be repeated frequently. Reinvasion of plants can be rapid.
    Chemical Controls
    Garden insecticides containing carbaryl (Sevin), spinosad, bifenthrin and permethrin can provide fairly good control for about a week. However, to protect seedlings, applications usually must be reapplied. The plants produce continuous new growth and the highly mobile beetles may rapidly reinvade plantings. As with all pesticides, carefully read and follow all label directions. Pay particular attention to ensure that any flea beetle insecticides being considered are properly registered for use on the crop.

    Diatomaceous earth is one of the more effective repellents, applied as a dry powder to the plants. Horticultural oils and some neem insecticides also have some repellent effect on this insect.
    re is some information I found from the Colorado Extension Internet site: