Saturday, June 23, 2012

Colorado Potato Beetle on the Potatoes in the Family Garden

Like locusts, the Colorado Potato Beetle is again visiting our garden. We are in the heart of potato-producing country here in central Wisconsin. The beetles will come whether you like it or not.

Last year, I attempted organic method of hand picking them which I did every other day for a week, to the benefit of much of nothing. There numbers were horrific, my attempts meager in comparison.

Their ravaging of the top growth just as our spuds were starting to bulk up, resulted in meager yields. so off to the Internet to research the problem and a conversation about potato growing with my dad, a dairy farmer with a lot of potato growing on his past resume.

Some of what he told me I had not realized. In the village here, I have ample water available at a short distance and am not much bothered by the beetle; no potatoes are grown close by any longer. Some summers I see one or two beetles and it is a "big" infestation.

My dad related how potatoes were generally planted as a twice a season harvest. An early crop planted the minute the soil could be dug to take advantage of the early spring rains, the potatoes to be dug and eaten through the summer; and a second harvest planted to take advantage of the fall rains and eaten through the winter. This is not the way the big commercial guys do it. One season, one crop generally planted a week or so after Easter, probably a good three weeks later than my grandparents and their parents would plant potatoes here in Wisconsin.

I have know that there are potatoes in those hills a week or so after the plant blooms, even as a young child. There is nothing so delicious as freshly dug red potatoes boiled!

In my garden here, my blue potatoes have been in bloom for a week or two. This is a potato without a cultivar name that Jung's was selling early this spring. I'm not sure I will like the taste or how much of the blueness will remain through cooking. I'm not sure how the visual of blue potatoes will affect the process of tasting it. One thing I have noticed, however; is the beetles do not like the taste of the leaves and nary a one is lunching on those blue potatoes in the family garden.

The picture above is of the beetles on the Red Pontiac and Red Norlands, which my sister-in-law not realizing there could be two red potato varieties, unwittingly planted in the same row. In my research I came across the information that Superiors are not as much affected by the beetles and looking at them purely from a visual rather than scientific point of view, I would say they are half as tasty as the reds in our garden.

Now the potatoes in my own potager will be ready to be dug in just a week or so, while those in the family garden have not yet begun to bloom. If I had the beetle here, given the point in the production cycle it would not be as detrimental as in the family garden.

I have also researched what organic (although I hate that word as it is more a political affirmation of goodness than an actual approval of low toxicity of nasty petro-chemicals and hormone interruptors). One take-away was the beetle is increasingly resistant to any chemicals and the agri-chemical companies are constantly in a battle of one-up-manship with the beetle. The latest and greatest in the chemical arsenal in the battle with the beetle is Spinosad, which has the certified organic folks approval. It has been approved for use in the USA since 1997.

Reading the ingredients and warning, I'm not so sure it is a chemical I want to use, especially with my sister-in-law breast-feeding little guy number three. It affect the neural tube (spinal column, brain, nervous system in high animal speak; and is contact lethal to bees and lethal by ingestion to ducks and rats, although not other animals like trout. Any chemical that include warning about run-off into waterways and affects on aquatic life, though, hits me as a flag that this could be bad for an infant that a short while ago was living the aquatic life itself floating in the womb of my sister-in-law.

So no Spinosad, at least not this year.

So Sister-in-Law comes across this organic pest repellant that seems chemically very much like the stuff in home-made deer and rabbit repellants. It contains carrots, cayenne, canola oil, and the one chemical monopotassium sodium, which to me read as a salt. So yesterday when I went to till and hoe and battle the weeds and saw the beetle had returned, I sprayed all the potatoes with this organic pharma product. I'll be watching to see if the beetles take their garden of good eating roadshow elsewhere. I'll let you know.

Otherwise, it may be more of the, hopefully, tasty blue potatoes and Superiors, and early planting next year.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Rachelle! Very informative, very interesting. We haven't had the beetles for a few years, not sure why. I'm not complaining!!