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colorado potato beetles vs. permaculture

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15614
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Somebody was having trouble with colorado potato beetles and I tried to help.  But there was a hostile body there that .... reminded me that we have a perfectly good place to talk about this sort of thing.  Here. 

First, in polyculture systems, I rarely see colorado potato beetle.  Or potato blight.  Anybody?

I have heard from many people that have had a lot of damage when growing huge rows of potatoes - or even a field of potatoes.  Same for blight.  Usually conventional.  Sometimes organic

So when somebody has colorado potato beetle problems and they are looking for solutions, I try to explain about how they might try polyculture the next year.  And the first question is "why?" or "how does that help?"  So I talk about the general perks of polyculture and how polyculture often thwarts all sorts of pests and while you still might get insect problems, they are typically one just one plant, not on all plants - like you might see when growing stuff in rows or in a field. 

I then want to get into talking about edge and the intersections of edge and how if a plant succombs to predators then that plant really shouldn't be at there, but in another spot. 

So then I got the idea that it would be good to talk about this specific issue.  It would be cool if lots of permies could share their info on colorado potato beetles.  Then, when folks in the future are struggling, we can direct them to this thread.


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Joined: Jan 24, 2011
Posts: 49
Location: Elmira, ny
I have got them right now in spades on two ground cherry plants that I grew from seed and which were very robust before they were attacked. They are growing amongst stuff like creeping charlie, wild lettuce, various mints, self-heal, and vervain, so they are not in a monoculture. Normally I do not get these bugs on things at all in my garden, not even when I was growing potatoes a few years ago. I tried hand picking them, which helped a little. I meant to pick up a bead vac the last time I had a car, which is good for vacuuming up pests like this, but I forgot. I think the issue with these particular plants is that they had a lot of tender growth due to the fertilizer I used to start them on. It is organic but is not the just plain liquid kelp that I usually use. It resulted in a lot of top growth in all my seedlings but not enough root development. Thing is, I used the same stuff to start my eggplants and peppers and whatnot, and no evil eye, they have not been attacked. Only these two plants. They were, though, huge when I set them out. Other than tender growth, I cannot see a reason why the bugs targeted these plants.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15614
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Plants that repel colorado potato beetle:

    Dead nettle
    Flax
    Green beans
    Horseradish

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15614
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
From wikipedia:  "Marigolds will deter beetles."
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Paracelsus wrote:
Other than tender growth, I cannot see a reason why the bugs targeted these plants.


I think it was in one of Eliot Coleman's books I read that "pests" are attracted to plants with excess nitrates, which occurs when plants are stressed or get too much nitrogen fertilizer.


Idle dreamer

John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6676
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
    
139
Green beans repel Colorado potato beetles.
Potatoes repel Mexican bean beetles.
Makes good sense to plant the two together. 
And, yes!  Marigolds will also help.  Marigolds are one of the best repellents for most vegetable plots (along with alliums...garlic/onion/leek).
                                


Joined: Jan 24, 2011
Posts: 49
Location: Elmira, ny
Yes, by "tender growth" I mean growth that has been stimulated by too much N fert. Typically, my plants don't have this because I don't use synthetic ferts, but this fert I got on sale, although organic and supposed to be only 6-6-6, must have been higher than 6 for the N. Maybe that was why it was discontinued. I have noticed the beetles have migrated to my woodland tobacco now (started with the same fert). These are still in pots. 
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15614
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
First, the thing to do is to have lots and lots of edges.  Edges make some spots really good for potatoes and some spots really good for something other than potatoes. 

If you have a great big flat garden - you're pretty low on edges. 

Then, when a potato plant gets infested with some kind of bug, it's because that spot was not a good spot for potatoes.  Something else should be growing there.

With polyculture, you might have 20 potato plants scattered willy nilly all over your garden.  15 will do well.  5 will do lousy.  The colorado potato beetles SHOULD find the 5 and knock back those plants - so the other neighboring plants that do better in that spot can have the room to thrive.  In the meantime, it is just kinda weird how the colorado potato beetles tend to not find the other 15 potato plants. 

Colorado potato beetles have a job in nature.  And they are doing it.  If you grow potatoes the wrong way, then you are gonna see colorado potato beetles.

If i see a potato plant succumbing to colorado potato beetles, then I pull the plant up, get what potatoes I can and drop the plant on the spot where it will feed the other plants that are still there.



                                


Joined: Jan 24, 2011
Posts: 49
Location: Elmira, ny
When I see potato beetles on a plant, I examine the leaves to see where they have laid eggs, because they always have. That's why putting the plant on top of the soil next to other healthy plants will tend to result in more potato beetles throughout the planting area. Instead, I pick off the eggy leaves if there are not too many. If there are, with some plants the eggs can be squashed, but with others the leaves are too tender and squashing the eggs means seriously injuring the leaves. Otherwise, the plant just has to be trashed, and I mean put in the trash or burned. Otherwise, they will reproduce and seek out other members of the nightshade family in your garden. The nightshades are my favorite family of plants and I grow various members of it for seeds, herbs, fruits, roots, just the hell of it, whatever. This is the first time I have had a problem with these beetles on my plants outside of years ago on some squashes on some other land.

I have not found that growing marigolds through my garden has any effect on anything other than it looks good. IME, also, it is not the common French or African marigold that is meant but Tagetes tenuifolia, which has a different smell. I have seen these sold as "Gem" marigolds. Sometimes the seeds can be pricey, but some places sell them in bulk so they can be sprinkled around. This is the same one that some people in the south use as a thick border planting to keep root-knot nematodes out of plots they have solar-killed nematodes in. I have heard good things from people who have tried that.

I use wide beds for growing, although some things are grown around the edges of my city lot as well or even just sprinkled around in areas that get dappled sun, like my currants, gooseberries, roses, and woodland shrubs. In the past I have grown things in groups without a problem, like 18 tomatoes in a patch. I must make use of what sun I have in my shady lot. This year it happens I have grown a lot more things in very tiny groups, like four plants or two plants, and I have actually had more problems than in the past with bugs, but it has been a real weird year weatherwise--huge amounts of rain, strong hail that smashed a bunch of plants, super high temperatures, windstorms, the works. Such volatile weather is difficult to garden around.
Charles Kelm


Joined: Apr 30, 2010
Posts: 151
Location: Western Washington (Zone 7B - temperate maritime)
I thought it would be helpful to have a picture here, for those of us who don't know what one looks like:



Someone let me know if that bug is not the bug we are talking about.


Western Washington (Zone 7B - temperate maritime)
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15614
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
permaculture vs. organic:

In an organic system, your potatoes will be in a row or a field (monocrop or monocrop-ish).  You may have adjusted the pH and will be closely monitoring things to make sure you get a good crop.  If you get some colorado potato beetles, you will try to find an organic way to get rid of them - because if you don't, you could lose your whole crop.

In a permaculture system, your potatoes are scattered all over the place willy nilly.  You don't really care about the pH anymore.  You don't worry about how much crop you will get because you always seem to get plenty mixed in with everything else.  If you get some colorado potato beetles, you probably don't even notice.  What does it matter?  The worst they will do is take out a few of your potatoes.  Usually the stuff that was pretty lame anyway.
Lee Einer


Joined: May 08, 2011
Posts: 169
Paracelsus wrote:
I think the issue with these particular plants is that they had a lot of tender growth due to the fertilizer I used to start them on. It is organic but is not the just plain liquid kelp that I usually use. It resulted in a lot of top growth in all my seedlings but not enough root development. Thing is, I used the same stuff to start my eggplants and peppers and whatnot, and no evil eye, they have not been attacked. Only these two plants. They were, though, huge when I set them out. Other than tender growth, I cannot see a reason why the bugs targeted these plants.


Thus have I heard -

Too much fertilizer creates high nitrogen concentration in the plant tissues and turns the plant into candy for insects.
Willy Kerlang


Joined: Apr 29, 2011
Posts: 106
paul wheaton wrote:

With polyculture, you might have 20 potato plants scattered willy nilly all over your garden.  15 will do well.  5 will do lousy.  The colorado potato beetles SHOULD find the 5 and knock back those plants - so the other neighboring plants that do better in that spot can have the room to thrive.  In the meantime, it is just kinda weird how the colorado potato beetles tend to not find the other 15 potato plants. 


This would explain why two of my basil plants are getting the holy hell ripped out of them by slugs and snails no matter what I do, and the others are doing just fine. 
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
With the way I plant potatoes (burying them with hay), I've never had beetle problems. Here's the method, and an explanation of why I think this works:

Stake out the edges of your bed, either with bits of hay/straw, or sticks, or flags etc

Place your seed potatoes ontop of existing ground. Weeding this area is NOT necessary but would probably help the potatoes do a bit better.

Cover the entire bed with at least 12-24 inches of hay. Don't be afraid to pile it on. The potatoes can take it

The potatoes will punch through the mulch in about 1-2 months, and in my experience, will finish in time before the frosts come in, as long as you plant before july.

Once they punch through and get attacked by beatles, or get about 1.5 - 2 feet tall, bury the potato plant with more mulch...Everything except the top two or three sets of leaves.


That is how this method succeeds against the beetles. You bury its food (the leaves), and its eggs. It also aparently doesn't like to live in these conditions.

I haven't tried but I imagine you could have other plants mixed in which would enjoy the burial (eg. celery, leeks)


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Zone 5a in Central Ontario, Canada
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
Re: my above post... I could see this applying to a patch of potatoes grown the conventional 'soil mound' way, which is getting attacked by beetles. All you have to do is bury the plants with mulch, and continue to do so once per month, or if the beetles persist.
Triple Kocurek


Joined: May 13, 2011
Posts: 6
just let the chickens in for an hour or so every couple days. any bugs in the garden will be gone in short order.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Any plants in the garden will be gone in short order! 
Al Loria


Joined: Apr 21, 2010
Posts: 395
Location: New York
The ore I see of permaculture in practice, the more I become a believer.  By personal observation, polycultures do much better at surviving than monocultures. Organic practices are great until the beasties figure out you have lots of the same plants in rows or large plots that they like.  Then you have to go about figuring all the ways of organically killing the pests without losing the whole crop, or your mind. 

Last year we started raised bed gardening using Toby Hemenway's methods and found the only thing we lost was the Zuchini squash to vine borers.  The other plants that did not do well were cucumbers.  We either did something wrong or have to understand Zuchini and cucumbers are not best for our area.  They did well when we had a garden 20 years ago, but not now, something had changed.  Whatever brought those bugs to the are has not been mitigated by the other insects and natural balancing factors.  So, guess what we didn't plant this year?

We added more herbs, garlic, onions and those types of plantings in between the tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts, lettuce and cabbage.  This year the lettuce is going like gangbusters with not a leaf being touched.  The cabbages started off with a few bugs nibbling, but now that has stopped.  I even let the weeds grow up in between now to see if they take the hit or help in keeping things balanced.  Only when they become invasive or are out competing what I want to grow do I cut them down.

Face it, you are going to lose some of what you grow to insects, blight, or whatever.  Learn what works, and then adapt to any changes by planting the things that will grow as something else succumbs to whatever it is that is killing it.  When the balance gets restored you may be able to plant those that have not done well in the past, once again.

We replanted our slope, which was always a problem with fruit trees, berry bushes and beneficial flowering plants.  I loaded it up on clover seed last year for the nitrogen.  We used to have wild Sumac trees always trying to establish on that slope. And they only appear at the the edges of the woods, never in thick wooded areas. This year, not a one has popped up. We get tons of weeds, wild rhubarb with leaves like elephant ears, poke berry and the like, but we slash them down and let it mulch and start the process all over.  All of the trees and berry bushes survived the winter and are flourishing.  We have enough diversity that the Sumac has not even tried to make a stand.  It is usually one of the pioneer trees as it grows like a weed here and 20 feet way is a large one which we let remain.  Yet, for some reason it does not need to grow on the slope anymore.  I'm thinking we did something right in the choices we made for diversity of the plantings on the slope.

We haven't got the permaculture thing down pat by any means. But, we see how it works.  Even the observations of the local woodlands tells me that a polyculture system is what comes naturally when the woods are left to their own devices.  Our challenge is how to bring that to what we do, in order to maximize the benefit with what we are growing.

One last comment.  Our lawn was a mess last year, and I know how most of you feel about lawns.  I added compost, organic material, organic fertilizer, dug Paul's worm pits and threw on a load of clover seed.  This year it has never looked more healthy.  It is loaded with clover, dandelion, plantains, some other creeping weeds like violets and a few others, but it is green and all the bare spots filled in by themselves.  Our neighbor's monocot lawns are burning in the heat we had the past 3 days and ours is still green and perky.  As we move toward changing the lawn to plantings of a beneficial nature, we can, from what was observed with the lawn, see the advantages of one plant helping another survive.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2472
Location: FL
    
  79
2 years ago I had 600 potato plants, about a dozen different cultivars.
They were planted in 4x50 raised beds, 50 or so plants per bed, less for some cultivars that had less seed potatoes.  The beds with potatoes were spread across the fields-a bed of blue potato here, red pontiacs over there, german butters across the street and on the other side of the house.

The beetles found one bed of potatoes and were in such a small population that control was done by squeezing the critters between a leaf.  Because the potato plant population was small in a given area, there was little to support a large population of the beetles.  If all the plants were together, the bugs could have multiplied to the point that serious losses could occur in a short time.

In the adjoining beds were other crops, flax was one.  There were marigolds here and there in parts of the field.  I cannot say if these had any effect on the potato plants or the beetles, but breaking up large crops into small sections has worked for me before.

In the end, the Late Blight epidemic that year wiped out all those plants, along with 300 tomatoes, all in the course of 2 weeks.


Seed the Mind, Harvest Ideas.
http://farmwhisperer.com
Triple Kocurek


Joined: May 13, 2011
Posts: 6
H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Any plants in the garden will be gone in short order! 

free range chickens that have access to greens on a regular basis will eat the bugs and ripe fruit but for the most part will leave mature plants alone.
Rob Sigg


Joined: Feb 04, 2010
Posts: 710
Location: PA-Zone 6
Keeping them all but covered has helped alot, so has planting flax with the potatoes....the flax just gets covered up like the plant and will eventually compost.

My thought is.....Is constantly covering up potatoes only an organic way to grow them or is it permaculture too? I would think that permaculture would be to plant them all over, and watch them thrive depending on where its be suited for them. Leaves may fall down creating deep litter, or maybe the soil is extremely thin to begin with.


permaculture wiki: www.permies.com/permaculture
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Masterherdsman wrote:
free range chickens that have access to greens on a regular basis will eat the bugs and ripe fruit but for the most part will leave mature plants alone.


That's never been my personal experience. 

jacque greenleaf
volunteer

Joined: Jan 21, 2009
Posts: 464
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
mine either!
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
Rob S. aka Blitz wrote:

My thought is.....Is constantly covering up potatoes only an organic way to grow them or is it permaculture too?


I think covering with spent hay/straw is more permaculture than covering with bare soil. Less disturbance to the earths skin, less exposed soil, and you're making use of a 'waste' product

Besides...There's a video showing Bill Mollison planting potatoes via the "burying with straw/hay method, so I think its kosher 


Rob Sigg


Joined: Feb 04, 2010
Posts: 710
Location: PA-Zone 6
The output is certainly outweighing the input, so I would agree its permaculture...just seeing what others think.
Fl Sunshine


Joined: Mar 10, 2011
Posts: 11
never had a problem with colorado potato beetles but the tomato horn worm can really play havoc to tomatoes, potatoes and any number of other nightshades and so can grass hoppers.  agree with most everyone about how to PREVENT pest infestations but once you have one a pretty simle way to deal with it is to squash any pests you see eating your plants and leave their remains on the leaves of the plant being attacked...would you leave your offspring in an area with bunches of squashed baby corpses?    sounds kinda gross but it always seems to work
                                  


Joined: Sep 26, 2010
Posts: 7
I started using worm compost tea a few years ago. Haven’t had a bug in my garden in all that time. Unless one was lost.

Something about the exoskeleton on the bugs being dissolved by the stuff absorbed by the plants, so they don't eat those plants.

Found recipe on Wikipedia.
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
We use chickens to control the potato bugs. Ducks work well too. The trick is to put only a few in and then remove them when they're done doing the job.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15614
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
mentioned in this podcast:

http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/301-podcast-034-sepp-holzer-film-discussion-1/

Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2472
Location: FL
    
  79
I have to put up more fence to keep the chickens out of the garden.  A couple of months ago as I was working 80 hours a week, the birds feasted on the potato plants.  Mind you, the potatoes were the only thing I've been able to get started this year, and about the only thing the birds had to munch on.  If I had a much wider selection and an abundance of crops, they might have left the things alone.  I've had chickens run around gardens before to see what would happen, maybe get rid of some bugs.  What happens is they find something they like and wipe it out with great zeal.
                      


Joined: Jul 17, 2011
Posts: 37
I read about and tried picking as many as practical, mashing them up (manually, in a blender, whatever) and then pouring boiling water over them. The resulting tea is then sprayed over the plants with a watering can. Apparently, they don't like relative soup...

Not as effective as pesticide of manually picking them (not forgetting to remove the eggs) but if you have too many potatoes and beetles to hand pick them all and are totally opposed to pesticide, this does provide some relief.
 
 
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