the dark side of gardening

Last week I started thinking again about the volunteer potatoes at the front of the garden. Part of me thinks one can never have too many potatoes. But of course, I’m pretty fond of winter squash, too, and the first was beginning to threaten the second. So I resigned myself to removing the infant tubers. Gardening does require sacrifice, and sometimes plants must be plucked before their time.

When I reached the doomed potatoes, slight sadness turned to horror.

The larvae of the dreaded potato beetle. Until now, For the most part, I haven’t minded sharing a bit of my bounty with the four- and six-footed residents of my little half-acre. So what if the flea beetles take pinhead-sized bites out of the arugula, or the local woodchuck has an appetite for beet greens—there’s still more than enough from me. But this pest is different. According to

Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) is the most important insect defoliator of potatoes. It also causes significant damage to tomato and eggplant. One beetle consumes approximately 40 cm2 of potato leaves at a larval stage, and up to additional 9.65 cm2 of foliage per day as an adult. In addition to impressive feeding rates, Colorado potato beetle is also characterized by high fecundity, with one female laying 300-800 eggs. Furthermore, the beetle has a remarkable ability to develop resistance to virtually every chemical that has ever been used against it.

Terrifying, right? Especially the part about “also causes significant damage to tomatoes.” So what’s a pesticide-shunning, nightshade-loving gardener to do? I started to research organic control methods, and I have to say, they’re pretty gruesome. Compared with fast-acting execution via manmade poison, the natural solutions bring to mind the methods of a sadistic enforcer from days of yore. For example:

  • Create trenches around the field and line them with black plastic. The larvae fall in and can’t climb out. The dark ditch lining heats up and eventually roasts them alive.
  • Dust the plants with finely-ground wheat bran. The critters ingest the fiber, which swells when they drink and causes them to explode.
  • Use propane flamers to destroy them.


But I also came across suggestions that you could render the plants unappetizing by spritzing them with water to which a few drops of essential oil of tansy or peppermint has been added. So that’s where I’m starting. I’m also picking off the bugs as fast as they appear. So far, they’re only on the volunteers and have not found the official solanaceae section of the garden. This is causing me to rethink pulling the misplaced plants; perhaps it’s better to let them stay and serve as a trap crop.

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2 Comments on “the dark side of gardening”

  1. Alan Herman Says:

    I have had fair luck with various bugs by spraying with watered down Murphy’s Oil Soap, and with dusting Rotenone, which is “natural” and so pretty low on the toxic scale… never tried both at once, by why not… good luck..!!


  2. […] The potato beetles have turned out to be not such a problem. I don’t know if this is due to the regular […]

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