Potato Bugs: Colorado Potato Beetle Control

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Checking out the garden last night I was horrified to see all these little bugs on my potato plants.  At first I thought they were Lady Bugs with a quick glance, but looking closer I realized they were the pesty Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) larvae.

I had read about the potato bug in the past while researching garden insects and pests, but this is the first in 3 years growing potatoes that they showed up.  A quick look through google nested some interesting sites for information.  Here are a few:

I'm not interested and never used pesticides in the garden, so was looking for a natural control method.  From what I've read about many different options, but these make sense to me:

  1. Manually go through the garden daily or even twice daily and pick the potato beetls into a container with soap and water.
  2. Can use 100% Neem oil as a diluted spray.  Neem oil is a natural control and works by discouraging the potato beetle from feeding, but not directly killing them.
  3. Attract or bring in natural biological predators for your garden such as green lacewings, ladybugs, predatory stinkbugs and spiders.
  4. Use BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis), which is a naturally occurring bacterial disease.  It's available as a spray solution at your local garden center and is effective in killing potato beetle larvae, but not as effective on adults.  Best to use if you catch early.

Since I only have a small patch of potatoes and am outside daily, I decided to just check a couple times a day and manually pick them off.  Some are in pretty bad shape so I hope I caught them in time.  Would hate to not have fresh garden potatoes this year and into the fall.

I'd love to hear how others go rid of these buggers.  I haven't personally tried the Neem oil or BT, but that would be my next move.  I also practice crop rotation to reduce the chance of recurrence... but I'm also looking into what I can do to the soil to possibly eliminate or reduce the change of them coming back next year in that bed.

Wasp Smackdown 2010 – I WIN!

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OK not that dramatic, but having to go back and face the buggers that stung me was tough..lol  This time though I was prepared.  I had on a big hoodie sweater, my full welding gear and a mosquito mask.  Wasn't getting stung this time... mind you my neighbours were out to watch the fun.  I think I even smelled popcorn for the show.  My son even put on an over sized mosquito jacket to watch.

Not only did I not kill the yellow jacket wasp nest in the potting shed last time, it actually grew!  I had to tear down the underside of the overhang to get in and tear it out.  Sprayed it down first and pulled it down with a garden hoe. 

It also looks like my last attempt worked somewhat as they built a new nest in my tool shed off of a hockey stick.  I finally got rid of both nests and sprayed around the location they built.  So far so good and hope this is the last of them.  I will be building a few wasp traps though... more on that later ;o)

Yellow Jacket Wasp Adventure

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I had me a not so happy surprise on Saturday morning...  After working in the garden, I went out to the garden shed to put some stuff away.  As soon as I walked in I saw a wasp flying around inside.  Now I'm not usually afraid of them and figure if you leave them alone, they will do the same.  This one must have flown into the shed and couldn't get out, right?  Well it didn't fly out while I was in there and it started acting aggressive.  Now what happened next should have been taped and submitted to America's Funniest Home Video!  That little wasp first stung me right in the forehead and got me dancing and swatting my way out of there so quick I knocked my glasses off and couldn't see where I was going.  I got stung another time under the arm as well.  My wife was laughing so hard I thought she was going to have the baby right there in the backyard.  I don't think I've moved my 240lbs so fast in my life, well not since University Football anyways.

After the adrenalin wore off, I went back to the scene of the crime to see what happened and where the buggers were coming from.  It seems like they just started building a nest in the upper corner eves of the "potting shed".  Since I use this area daily, have 2 dogs that play in that area as well my my son, I opted for the quick method of spray to remove them.  I know it's not the natural way to dispose of them, but I needed a quick solution.  After a quick foam coating both inside and under the eve, it looks like they are gone and we can use that area again.

One thing I did learn is that wasps should be thought of as beneficial insects.  They prey on other non beneficial insects and usually leave us alone, unless provoked or their nest is disturbed like I did.  This is unfortunate, cause they sometimes nest where we do business and then become a nuisance and hazard.  I found Earth Easy had a pretty good article covering this topic so if anyone else is having this issue, check out their article Natural Wasp Control.  Now that I know better, I'll be keeping an eye out to discourage wasps rather then having to distroy them in the future.  A couple of other good articles I read: How to get rid of Yellow Jackets and How to get rid of Wasps.

Building a Bat House

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Researching how to naturally control insects around our urban homestead I came across BATS!  OK.. bats have a bad rap and treated unfairly by misconceptions and "wives tails".  One of the best things you can do for your garden and the struggling bat population is to build a few bat houses or roosts.

Bats are extremely beneficial and will help keep you and your garden insect pest free.  Bats will eat between 30 and 50 percent of it's body weight in insects nightly.  Ya that's a lot of mosquitoes, June beetles, cutworms, moths, leafhoppers and many other flying insects.  Bats will NOT get caught in your hair and will NOT attach your small dog or turn into a vampire ;o)  Due to loss of habitat and encroachment of urban sprawl, bats are on the loosing end of the battle for survival.  Building a bat house gives them the safe roosting site they need and in turn they will help keep you insect pest free... win/win

Some important line items I've learned while researching:

  • Bat houses should face south and receive about 6-8 hours of daylight a day
  • Bat houses should be mounted on a pole or building 10 to 12 ft high
  • If building on a pole you can mount 2 bat houses back to back facing east/west and the bats can rotate to help regulate temperature
  • Bat houses need to be somewhat close to a water source, approx a 1/4 mile from a small stream, river or lake
  • Bat houses need to be mounted in a location without bright lights at night and free of obstructions at entry
  • Paint or stain Bat house in black or dark brown colors to help heat inside the roost

My son (6yrs old) and I built our Bat House based on a design we saw online and was easy to adapt to scrap wood I had laying around (measurements approx).  We cut and stained all the pieces and spent a rainy Sunday afternoon putting it together:

1 piece of 1/4" plywood (18 wide x 52 long)
1 piece of 1/4" plywood (18 wide x 36 long)
1 piece of 1/4" plywood (18 wide x 10 long)
2 pieces of 3/4" plywood cut (2 wide x 34 long)
1 piece of 3/4" plywood cut (2 wide x 18 long)
1 piece of leftover plastic screen cut (18 wide x 52 long)
Left over bathroom caulk
1 1/4 finishing nails

Staple the plastic screen on the large piece of plywood (18 x 52).  Staple along the edges and make sure the staples are in all the way.  Tap them with a hammer if you need to and bend the back ends in if the staples are too long and go through your wood sheet. Cut the plastic screen to length.

Leaving about an inch from the top, lay down some caulk along the 2 sides and top and mount the 3/4 plywood strips.  Leaving an inch from the top is required so you can have a slanted roof.  We didn't nail them just yet.  Then lay a bead of caulk on the two long sides and top of the (18 wide x 36 long) piece of 1/4 plywood.  Place this piece on top of the 3/4 plywood strips so that you have an air tight 3/4 inch pocket.

Take the last piece of 1/4" plywood, caulk and place just below the top piece leaving about a half inch between.  This space is the vent.

At this point I used the finishing nails front and back to make sure everything stays together.  Caulk the top where we left the 1 inch space so no water or wind can come in and nail the roof.  Since we left that 1 inch space the roof will be slanted allowing water to drip off.  Make sure the roof has an overhang front, back and sides.

I hope the following pictures make sense of the descriptions... either way there are TONS of great writeup online from actual bat preservation and wildlife foundations.  Find one you like, build and enjoy.  I'll post updates when we finally have a bat colony move in!

Hope this was informative and would love to hear if others have implemented bat houses on their urban homestead and how it worked for you.