I don’t know about you, but this spring has been a bad year for flea beetles. We have hardly had any warm days, and yet the flea beetles have done their best to put as many holes as possible in the early crops of turnips, arugula, and radishes in my garden.
Before you go out to see just exactly what it putting the holes in your leaves, keep in mind that the adult flea beetles are very tiny—just 1/10 inch long. They’re black, brown, or bronze (depends on the species) with enlarged hind legs that allow them to jump like fleas when they have been disturbed. The larvae live in the soil and are thin, white, legless grubs with brown heads.
The adults emerge from the soil in spring to feed on your early, tender spring crops and then lay their eggs on the roots of plants. They will continue to lay eggs until they die (ususally about early July). Once laid, the eggs hatch in about a week. The larvae will feed on the roots for 2-3 weeks and then move out farther in the soil to pupate. After 2-3 weeks, they will emerge as fully grown adults and the cycle begins again. In a typical year, a gardener can battle up to four generations of flea beetles.
As mentioned often throughout my blog, I am an organic gardener. So, what do I do to get rid of these little beasts?
–Plant susceptible plants as late as possible to avoid the most damaging generation. These include potatoes, spinach, flowers, and members of the Brassica family (cabbage, turnips, arugula, radishes, mustard, etc.)
–Cover seedlings and potato shoots with floating row covers until adult beetles die off.
–Lightly cultivate the soil around plants before and after planting to destroy any flea beetle eggs and larvae in the soil. Nothing like solar rays to act as an instant bug zapper!
–Keep your garden weeded! Flea beetles like to hide in cool, weedy areas. Prevent them from hopping onto your susceptible crops by surrounding the crops with a 3-foot-wide strip of frequently weeded bare ground.
–Confuse the beetles by mixing up your plantings. Surround their favorite food plants with flowers and herbs like Queen Anne’s lace, dill, and parsley, which attract beneficial insects.
Whatever you do, don’t let the flea beetles get the best of your garden before it has had a chance to grow!
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