Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In the Garden with Flea Beetles

I was just rounding out hour number five of transplanting onions in the garden, when a rain storm blew over the hill and soaked me through. Now that I am in dry clothes with a cup of tea, the sun is back on the scene. Oh well.

We have been dealing with flea beetles. If you are unfamiliar with them, they are black with a reflective, almost metallic looking shell. They eat small holes through the leaves of a specific group of plants, mostly radishes, kale, arugula, and things in the kohl family. If you were to see one and reach out to squish it, you'd probably fail, because it would have rocketed into the air and onto the next leaf by the time your hand received your brain's impulse. They thrive on the plantain in our pastures, so I have no hope of actually diminishing them on any scale, but I would like to control their activity in our garden. We read about two organic options: 1) Spray the plants with a strong solution of cayenne pepper, which would protect the plants by making them undesirable, but not reduce the pest's numbers. 2) Buy yellow fly traps. Flea beetles are supposedly attracted to the color, and after landing there they get stuck to the adhesive layer and die. I didn't love the idea of spending money on something I could make with a few random things we have here, and Garth found confirmation online that people have had some success making their own. Here is my version. It kind of works.

I chose a few pieces of glass, and rummaged through a pile of old oil paints- strange ones I had to buy in art school and haven't used since. I found a windsor yellow and painted it onto one side of the glass. I initially intended to let it dry, but the flea beetles were getting ahead of us, so I shortened the timeline by smushing one half of a plastic bag over the wet paint. I trimmed the plastic and took it up to the garden where I poured some mineral oil over it. If you put too little oil on the glass, the flea beetles will hop on and hop right off. If you put on too much oil, it runs over the edges and onto your garden. But if the amount of oil is just right, the flea beetles leap on and won't leave. I think this trap has lots of room to evolve, but it is doing something. There are still a lot of them eating our plants, but at least I feel like I have a hand in the game as it plays out.

And on a final note, we had the first fruits of the garden this year- a salad made with thinnings from our rows of kale, lettuces, and arugula. Although we enjoyed the dandelion greens I harvested from the fields throughout April, there is something to be said for the tenderness of cultivated plants.

- Alanna

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