Question: I have black and white striped beetles with a red head infesting my beans and eggplant. I am an organic gardener. How can I get rid of these?
Answer: It is likely what you are seeing is pigweed or pale stripe flea beetles. Flea beetles are common pests found on many vegetable crops including radishes, broccoli, cabbage, beans, turnips, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, sunflowers, corn and melons.
Flea beetles are small and jump when they are disturbed. They feed on the foliage of the plant, leaving small holes. Flea beetle injury is most important when seedlings are becoming established or in the production of leafy vegetables. During this stage growth can be stunted and in severe cases the plants may die. Injuries are usually minor and easily outgrown on established plants. In the larval stage, they feed on the roots of plants.
Flea beetles spend the winter in the adult stage, hidden under leaves, dirt clods or in other protected sites around the garden. They typically begin to become active during warm days in early to midspring and then seek out the types of plants they feed on. They can produce two to three generations per season. Your fall leafy greens will be particularly susceptible to damage by flea beetles if you are already infested.
Below are some tips for organically controlling flea beetles in your garden:
1. Remove garden trash and plow or rototill under weeds to reduce overwintering sites.
2. When planting seeds or seedlings, floating row covers can be extremely effective. Place them over your seedlings until they are old enough to tolerate beetle damage.
3. Applying beneficial nematodes to the soil will destroy the larval stage, reducing root feeding and helping to prevent the next generation of adults from emerging.
4. You can apply organic diatomaceous earth for long-lasting protection. Made up of tiny fossilized aquatic organisms that look like broken glass under the microscope, DE kills by scoring an insect’s outer layer as it crawls over the fine powder.
5. Neem oil is approved for organic use and can be sprayed on vegetables, fruit trees and flowers to kill eggs, larvae and adult insects. Be sure to follow label directions exactly for the pest you are treating.
6. You can also use trap crops, such as mustard and radish, planted near garden areas to draw pests away.
For more information on flea beetles and other pests in the vegetable garden you can contact your local extension office. Atlantic County residents can contact the Master Gardener Helpline at 609-625-0056. Cape May County Residents can call 609-465-5115, ext.3607.
Events: Atlantic County Master Gardeners will be available to answer gardening questions and take samples for plant identification or diagnoses throughout the county this summer. You can find us at the Hammonton Green Day Festival, Sept. 21. We will also be available at Atlantic County Library branches throughout the county during evenings in the fall. Please check with your local library for a schedule or call the Master Gardener Helpline for dates and times near you.
Interested in our Junior Master Gardener Program? We will have an information session 6 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office in Mays Landing. Call 609-625-0056 and ask for Brittany Rigg or Kendrin Dyitt for more information.
Do you have a gardening related question you would like answered here? Please forward your questions to Belinda Chester, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. You can also submit questions at Rutgers-atlantic.org/garden or email them to email@example.com; please include “garden question” in the subject line.