The potatoes are up and doing well. The potato bugs are also up and doing well.
For the past week we have been bent on the hand-picked destruction of these little pests. They are shameless in their striped beetle-y body armor, willing to hang out on the tops of the plants in the noon-day sun, just daring anyone or anything to eat them.
But nothing does eat them apparently. My guess is that the adults harbor some residue from the potato plant that they ingested back when they were a larva rendering them awful tasting or maybe worse. So why hide?
And their eggs, bright yellow at first, turning to orange, then garnet, then black, in clutches of 30 or so, laid in tight little bunches on the undersides of the leaves, must be equally icky, because they feel no need to camouflage them either.
These things really highlight a dark streak in me. “Die, die, die”, I will mutter as I pinch the adults. “Not this time”, I say scraping the tiny caviar-like eggs from under the leaves.
Techniques abound for handling the little pests ranging from the borderline mystical to the sadistic. My favorite is the theory that healthy plants don’t get pests. The healthy plant theory hinges on plant sugar content. Healthy plants have a high brix (sugar content). So if an egg does get laid on the plant, the larva hatches, eats the high sugar content leaves, which then ferments in its gut, and it then explodes. I’m all for exploding larvae. Really. For that I would pull up a lawn chair and watch. I am working toward improving my soils so that I have healthier plants. Right now I get potato beetles on everything from big, bushy beautiful plants to stunted, mottled, dried out things. I will have to let you know when I get it right and the larvae start a-poppin’.
I’m really not the murderous sort, I got into farming because of a nurturing streak. But I have to admit that my current mode of pest control is sadistic. Popping and squishing is pretty barbaric. I know this and given my natural inclination to want to leaven the nastiness with levity, I have developed a scale of satisfaction for potato beetle extermination by my hand.
The scale ranges from satisfied to very satisfied to very, very satisfied to extremely satisfied to giggling with glee. There is no unsatisfied when it comes to eliminating potato bugs.
At the bottom of the list, at the satisfying level, is finding hatched out larvae that have migrated around the plant and have begun eating the leaves. Always they start with the tenderest, newly emergent leaves at the terminal end of a plant. Little, shiny black spots munching merrily on your plant. Having emerged and started to destroy your plant, this is, in some way, a victory for the beetles. They have escaped your attention and done damage. But killing the larvae individually is still a happy thing.
Very satisfying is the smearing a clutch of newly laid eggs. Bright yellow and rod shaped, they pop in a truly satisfying way. I like this. In some ways, the brighter the color, the better I like it. I have some enthusiasm for the idea of catching a bug laying the eggs and wiping them all out at once. But any eggs are good by me.
Next up is squashing an adult that has been found posing smugly on the top leaves of the plant, secure in its instinctive knowledge that “no-one-will-eat-me-because-I’m-yucky.” Yes, killing an adult beetle who has likely been busy laying eggs on the very plant upon which you have found it, is a very, very satisfying activity.
Better still is finding a clutch of newly hatched larvae still clustered together gathering their bearings before oozing off to munch. I wipe them out with a single smear of my thumb and a smile. This is an extremely satisfying activity.
At the top of the satifaction survey, in the “giggling with glee” category, is catching a pair of adults “in flagrante delecto”. And dispatching them. If there is buggy joy for the act, then I take some comfort in knowing that they died happy. And I am happy to have prevented their 800 or so progeny from ever studding the plants.
At this point, mid-June, the beetle onslaught has slowed. Where before I would find dozens of adult beetles, now I find one or two. It would be foolish to think that the battle has been won. Turn your back for a minute and your plants will be gone and you will at best have handfuls of new potatoes.
I will maintain vigilance and enjoy mounds of mashed, pan-fried, french fried and baked potatoes the entire year. I still sleep well, bug killer that I am.