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Flea beetles

02 May 2009
19°C / 67°F

I have a serious problem with flea beetles at my community garden plot. They are eating everything.

The radishes are the hardest hit, followed by the kale, then the broccoli, collards, and kohlrabi. I’ve read that seedlings are most vulnerable, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here — even my larger kale and kohlrabi plants are being seriously damaged. We used row cover at the start of the season to protect these plants from cold. This probably protected them from the flea beetles too. If I’d known that, I would have kept the covers on longer.

What should I do? I’ve looked into controls, and the organic options seem quite limited. Neem and insecticidal soap aren’t very effective. I’ve read that DE can be — should I try that? Any advice would be appreciated. I’d like to get this problem under control before I plant my tomatoes and peppers out.


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Hi Kat

I have had the same problem a couple years in a row now. What I’ve found that works is garlic pepper spray that I bought at the local feed store. I spray it directly to both sides of the leaves and the soil as well. Works very well for me, you just reapply after a rain.

Posted on 02 May 09 (over 10 years ago)

I don’t grow many brassicas so I have not had to solve a flea beetle problem before. But, my Vegetable Garden Problem Solver (by Fern Marshall Bradley, Rodale 2007) book suggests that as you suspected, the row cover would have helped. It also suggests holding a sticky trap while you brush the foliage to catch the bugs as they jump up. Apparently kaolin clay (which I have never seen in the stores) and garlic sprays might also prevent the beetles from eating the foliage. It also suggests testing a small vacuum to suck the bugs off. And for biocontrol sprays it suggests spraying beauveria bassiana (again not something I have seen in the stores.)

Posted on 02 May 09 (over 10 years ago)
Katxena

Katxena

Folia Helper

United States7

@stras56, thanks so much for sharing your experience. Last year I made a garlic spray that helped repel a rodent from next door — maybe I’ll try making a similar spray and see if it helps. @HazelJ, thanks for looking that up for me. Maybe I can get a small vacuum off of freecycle — that would be awesome! I’ve never seen either of the sprays you mention, but I’ll look them up.

I read somewhere about making sticky traps out of a piece of cardboard and Vaseline. I might try that too.

Posted on 03 May 09 (over 10 years ago)
cristyn

cristyn

Folia Helper

United States5b

There’s always row covers. I found some explicitly for keeping insects out without trapping heat. I want to say I ordered them from territorial seeds, but I’m not sure. I haven’t used them yet; I’m saving them for striped cucumber beetles.

Posted on 03 May 09 (over 10 years ago)
Katxena

Katxena

Folia Helper

United States7

Unfortunately, now that the beetles are in, I don’t think row covers will do the job. I need some way to eliminate them. I was thinking of using the fabric store netting that urbandogsgarden discussed, after I find a way to deal with them.

Posted on 03 May 09 (over 10 years ago)

nice critters, aren’t they? they will probably go away eventually, and they generally just slow your plants down a bit. they’ll be a bit uglier, but still completely edible. have you tried planting a trap crop? diatomaceous earth should help as well. keeping your dirt in real good shape so the plants can recover quickly will also make a big difference.

Posted on 03 May 09 (over 10 years ago)
Katxena

Katxena

Folia Helper

United States7

Thanks puu. I was thinking of trying DE. I just need to figure out where to buy it. I don’t think a trap crop would work because everyone in the community garden (177 plots) has them right now. No matter what I do, they are just going to hop over from one of my neighbors. :(

Posted on 03 May 09 (over 10 years ago)

Maybe you can hope that they (the flea beetles) will like the greens in one of the 176 other plots and leave yours alone. (Doesn’t seem too likely.)

In the meantime, if you do find a small vacuum, some of the other gardeners might find your vacuuming the plants quite entertaining. In all seriousness I would be curious to find out if it works, and what you do with a vacuum full of flea beetles.

Posted on 04 May 09 (over 10 years ago)

The flea beetles just arrived in my community garden. I was flea-beetle-free on Friday, and they were just starting to munch when I stopped by today. I might try a sticky trap; last year (after I’d already yanked out all of my Brassicas) a gardener friend recommended wrapping duct tape around one hand, and using the other hand to slowly brush against the leaves of the flea-beetle-infested plants, with the taped hand just a few inches in front. Then the beetles are supposed to jump away from the bare hand, and get attached to the sticky tape. I’m going to try that method later this week.

I had them last spring, too, and they never bothered any non-Brassica crops, so (at least based on that experience) I wouldn’t worry about your tomatoes and peppers.

Posted on 05 May 09 (over 10 years ago)
Katxena

Katxena

Folia Helper

United States7

Thanks redloon. Unfortunately, they arrived while I was out of town, so they’ve gotten quite out of control. I’ll try the duct tape trap too and report back!

Posted on 05 May 09 (over 10 years ago)

Looking at your poor seedlings gives me shivers. :-(

If you’re looking for DE, Lowe’s sells it. I’ve never used it before, but bought a bag recently “just in case” because slugs have been a problem in some parts of my garden. Then I learned that wood ash (of which we have a ton, because we heat with wood) will also work. If you have access to wood ash, I wonder if it would help with flea beetles?

Posted on 08 May 09 (over 10 years ago)
Katxena

Katxena

Folia Helper

United States7

Thanks Farmette — I’ve read that wood ash does help with flea beetles, but I don’t have any so I mentally ignored it.

I was at the garden today, and things are still bad. It’s been raining so much that I haven’t tried anything to combat the flea beetles, as it would just wash off. Even today, the driest day we’ve had in two weeks, it rained a bit.

Posted on 08 May 09 (over 10 years ago)
matangie

matangie

Folia Helper

United States5b

I totally feel your pain. Flea beetles and powdery mildew are both big problems in our community garden. All the more so because there are people who don’t take care of the problem making it more difficult for the rest of us. :-(

Posted on 27 Jun 09 (about 10 years ago)
Katxena

Katxena

Folia Helper

United States7

Eventually, the DE worked. I’ve been keeping a keen eye out for more of the devils!

Posted on 27 Jun 09 (about 10 years ago)

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Gardener

Katxena

Germantown, Maryland

United States



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