Patrolling for Potato Bugs

Nearly every evening we go for a walk after supper.  It’s a practice we started many years ago (we call it our “paseo”) and it’s become a part of our daily routine.

But this time of year we have to cut our paseos short, as we usually begin them with a short walk over to the potato garden, where we spend 30-60 minutes patrolling for Colorado potato beetles, known unaffectionately to us as “potato bugs.”

Potato bugs are voracious and persistent. If potato plants are left unattended, the potato bugs will destroy them.

The conventional way to deal with them is to spray or dust the plants with pesticides.  That practice accounts for the fact that potatoes have the highest percentage of pesticide residue by weight of any vegetable.  When you eat conventional potatoes, you are eating pesticides.

Organic farmers usually control the beetles by spraying their potatoes with Spinosad, a natural pesticide approved for organic use.  But “organic” or not, it’s still a pesticide.  It kills the potato bugs, but it kills the lady bugs too. On our farm we don’t use any pesticides, whether organic-approved or not.

So we control the potato beetles by hand.  The process is time-consuming, but fortunately they’re not difficult to spot and they’re not evasive.

When we patrol, we are on the lookout for the three stages:  the adult beetles, the eggs and the larvae.  We show them no mercy.

The eggs are easily visible

The eggs are easily visible

An adult beetle

An adult beetle

The hated larvae.  It is at this stage that they do the damage.

The hated larvae. It is at this stage that they do the damage.

Last year was a bad year for potato bugs.  The infestation was the worst I’ve ever seen.

This year the situation is back to normal.  We have things under control and are close to being able to discontinue our evening search and destroy missions.

Over the years we have found that when a particular pest population explodes, suggesting the need for massive chemical intervention, if allowed to address it, nature will act on her own to restore a natural balance.  One year we were attacked in force by pea aphids, and I’ve seen very few of them since that year. Another year we went through a Japanese beetle plague, but we hardly see any now.  Our spring brassicas were savagely attacked by harlequin bugs one year, but since that year I’ve rarely seen one.

We know there will be potato bugs every year, but with an hour a day in the garden for a few weeks, and help from the lady bugs (lady bug larvae eat potato beetle eggs), we can keep the plants healthy and strong, insuring a great harvest without the use of toxins.

We like it that way.

For the fascinating story of potato bug patrolling in Cold War Lithuania and how Soviet propaganda attributed Colorado potato beetles to a capitalist plot, check out BeeHappee’s post HERE.