The first pest of the season has shown itself: The flippin flea beetle, aka Corn Flea Beetle, Potato Flea Beetle and PITA Beetle (I made the last one up).
Flea beetles are little jerk bugs that infest apparently everything we’ve planted in the garden. They particularly like brassicas but they’ll munch on beans, lettuce, sweet potato, spinach, watermelon, tomato, radish, and pepper, among other plants.
They are tiny, little fleas that jump when disturbed and are typically dark brown, black and can have white or yellow markings. They can also be metallic or shiny (like.a.beetle!).
They will eat the surface of the leaves and sometimes the roots of the plant. They suck and I hate them.
Flea beetles are pretty common garden pests and their infestation can be widespread – meaning they don’t discriminate, if you find them on your tomato plant, they’re probably hopping over to your lettuce and bee boppin over to your kale.
The flea beetle will chew teeny tiny holes in the leaves and roots of plants which will cause the leaves to wilt and turn brown and the plant to die. Since they hop all over the place like fleas they will transfer disease like bacterial wilt or early potato blight among your plants.
Flea beetles are worst after mild winters and cool, wet springs. We had a pretty hard winter this year, but the spring was definitely cool and very wet. So…flea beetles.
Even though these sonsofbitches can be everywhere and on everything in your garden, there are several things you can do to deter and hopefully eliminate them. Depending on the degree of your infestation, you may want to try one or more of these organic methods:
- Flea beetles live in the soil over the winter, tilling your soil in early spring before planting will disturb their hiding place.
- Keeping the soil clear of debris over the winter also keeps these bugs from hanging out in there and surfacing in the spring.
- Flee beetles will stop feeding and hide in wet weather, typically retreating to the soil. Suckers! Spread some wet wood ash near the base of your plants, when they go down to hide they will hate it and die or leave. You can also coat the plant leaves with wood ash, but you’ll need to reapply after it rains (duh).
- Flea beetles locate their favorite plants by smell, so planting aromatic herbs or flowers in your garden may deter the flea beetle from your vegetable plants. We’re going to put some thyme in our garden beds, but you could plant marigolds. Mint, catnip, candytuft, shepherd’s purse, and tansy are also allies of the flea beetle.
- A dusting of diatomaceous earth dries up beetles.
- Plant a trap crop like radishes. The beetles will eat the radish but not disturb the plant’s root.
- Apply beneficial nematodes in mulch or seed furrows.
- Plant companion cover crops like ryegrass or clover to reduce populations.
- Cover with row covers.
- Mulch with chopped clover.
- Use a pyrethrum spray or neem oil spray.
- Compost tea keeps your plants healthy which helps deter many garden pests, including flea beetles.
We decided to first spray everything with a neem oil concoction:
Shake it up. Spray. Reapply every third day and after it rains until you have eradicated the beetles.
If that doesn’t do it we are going to be putting down some wood ash.
Now how do I keep this pest out of my garden?
Just kidding. That’s our cat. Max.