Farm pests – could it be worse?

We’ve been battling many different pest problems lately; in our admittedly limited experience here, this is by far the worst year for insect pests. However, talking to Joanna’s parents in NW Arkansas, it could be much worse.

One major problem has been thrips, which we’ve implicated at least in part in the near-total failure of our sweet onions and the less-than-spectacular crop of storage onions. These are tiny little pests which are especially fond of alliums and whose sucking of the leaves damages the plant badly. Interestingly, given my recent discource on odd plurals in English, the Wikipedia entry for thrips notes that the word is both singular and plural. Thus one could properly refer to a single thrips, as odd as that sounds. Is there another word like this?

Outdoing the thrips, however, have been the cucumber beetles. Coming in two varieties, striped and spotted, these descended on our summer squash plantings shortly after real production began and have been happily spreading damage and disease. Cucumbers are highly susceptible as well, and while our plants are producing nicely at the moment, we don’t know how long they’ll last. Our control method is to hand-squish the little bleeps.

The striped cucumber beetles stick to cucurbits (squash & cukes), but the spotted cucumber beetles aren’t so picky. They eat holes in beans, nibble on fennel, cause damage to corn (in the larval stage, especially), and show up almost everywhere, including occasionally in our hair. One avoided being squished today by landing on a poison ivy leaf.

Other crops are battling heavy insect herbivory, too. Last year about this time we had some nice amaranth leaves at market. Our planting this year has been all but skeletonized; a type of striped flea beetle is at least partly to blame. Fennel has also suffered considerably from insect pressure. In that case, it seems to be the tarnished plant bugs that are doing the most damage.

That being said, at least we’re not yet within the apparently widespread outbreak of Japanese beetles south of us. I’ve run across more than one article on these horrible invasive pests affecting vegetable and fruit crops in SW Missouri, and Joanna’s parents report that they’re all over the place in NW Arkansas. Apparently their garbage man has caught 35lb of beetles in pheromone traps so far at his own place. Joanna has seen only two or three here, but someone we know reported having trouble with them near Rocheport. Fingers crossed….

In general we’re glad we’re up here right now. As rough as the season has been for us and most farmers we’ve talked to, word from Arkansas is that everything is worse there. The local farmers markets are almost empty, CSAs are really struggling, and it’s just generally disheartening. At least at the moment we can feel good about the items we have coming on, if nothing else goes wrong.

And at least we no longer have plagues of locusts in the Midwest. More on that soon.

2 thoughts on “Farm pests – could it be worse?

  1. We're located near downtown Columbia, and we definitely also have both the spotted and striped cucumber beetles. This is my first year growing cucurbits, so I am still figuring out what they're going to do to my plants and what it'll look like. In the meantime, we're killing them.We also have Japanese beetles which have skeletonized the life out of our three grape vines. Once I figured out that they were bad bugs, we've been getting rid of them and that's really helped control their populations.

  2. Cucumber beetles will spread disease that will wipe out your plants. Their disease-vector role is far more problematic than their blossom/plant-eating role. Squish them as often as possible, and pull plants which wilt and/or look diseased. Wash your hands after handling diseased plants.Sorry to hear you've got Japanese beetles. They're terrible; we don't know why they haven't found us yet this year.