The Survival Podcast Forum

Farm, Garden and The Land => Gardening and Agriculture => Topic started by: artephius on November 11, 2015, 05:47:08 PM

Title: harlequin bug control...
Post by: artephius on November 11, 2015, 05:47:08 PM
Hi all,

This year I had an invasion of these little beetles that made biblical plagues sound pleasant.. I pretty much just let them be as I had never seen them before (figured I'd observe now and annihilate er um.. interact ) later. These little guys are a real problem though that I'm afraid I will need to deal with somehow next year.

They seem to eat everything except each other and breed so fast its scary... They were even breeding in empty buckets I had laying around. I did blast the whole garden with DE once just to see if it had any effect and it seemed to knock them back slightly for a few days, but basically had no real effect.

From searching around I see some wasps will eat their babies! Great! But I'm not sure how to attract the wasps. I did have a awful lot of yellow jackets this year maybe they were eating them?

Anyway if anyone has dealt with these little SOBs I'd really appreciate some tips... The only real success I had was the 10 or so I squished every time I took a step in the garden (there were that many).


EDIT: Here's a link to a picture of the little demons... (
Title: Re: harlequin bug control...
Post by: I.L.W. on November 11, 2015, 10:42:06 PM
I've no first-hand experience with this bug (Must be too cold in my region). But generally speaking, a beetle is a beetle. The same vulnerabilities are universal.

First line of defense is hand picking any you see. It's 5-10 minutes a day as you work in the garden just picking the bugs off. It seems tedious, but you can get a lot of them very quickly this way. The constant pressure on the population will keep the damage to a minimum.

Next, desiccation of larva. Water at the root zone, no foliar spraying for a few weeks.

Dusting with Diatomaceous earth will create an abrasive surface which will kill a lot of them, both larva and adults. It needs to be applied lightly, but repeatedly, every day for a couple of weeks. Don't cover the plants completely, just a light dusting, repeated often.

A mild soap spray will kill most of them. Use a strong liquid soap, but dilute heavily in water. 1 Teaspoon per liter is sufficient. Spray once every 10 days during periods of high pest activity.

Keep a journal, noting when you first see the bug (date, approximate temperature, what you spotted them on, is it rain or shine etc). This helps you determine when they are likely to return the following year so you can get a jump on them.

If you can preempt their emergence, on certain crops you can use a foliar antitranspirant spray. It's basically a liquid wax for the leaves that helps preserve moisture. It also blocks a lot of the plant chemical signals which attract the insects in the first place. I wouldn't use it on leaf crops like lettuce or cabbage, but it's fine for things like peppers.

A mild application of wintergreen oil around the bed can help.

Plants high in silica can withstand attacks much better. Even in pure sand however, there's usually very little bioavailable silica for the plant. You need to conscript a few plants which excel in extracting it, and use them to refine it in more available forms. Horsetail and wood nettle are excellent for this. Grow them in sandy loam soil with a high pH. Harvest the plants before they set seed, and make a compost tea from them to foliar-feed the plants you want to protect. It's a plant immune booster basically.

Prune damaged leaves and stems immediately to reduce the surface area of the wound.

Bacillus sprays derived from raw vinegar mother, in a monosaccharide solution (boiled sugar or molasses which has been allowed to cool and diluted 40:1 in water) will help break down damaged plant materials much faster, without harming the healthy parts. A reduction of stressed tissue has been show to decrease the attractiveness of the plants to pests.

Many beetles complete their life cycle in the ground. A layer of cardboard and some thick mulch around the plants can prevent them from entering the soil beneath and seriously reduce the population next season. Likewise, crop rotation will prevent any larvae in the soil from having another plant of the same type in it's vicinity when it emerges the following season.

Interplanting different species will help confuse the pests. The colorado potato beetle for instance can't find potatoes and related species amongst dill, fennel and onion very easily. Rather than uniform rows of a single crop, mix everything up a bit.

Neem oil is very effective at preventing an infestation if applied in the days preceding the first pest's emergence. Again, this is why you want to keep a journal.

Traps are also very useful. The sticky traps used in orchards seem to work on most garden pests. A light at night over a bowl of water attracts many insects.

Keep the plants healthy with a full soil test once every 3-5 years, and make sure there are no deficiencies. A healthy plant isn't likely to become infested, but a struggling plant will be crawling with pests very quickly. Most beetle problems come from high starch levels in the plant paired with a low root quality. This makes bulb and tuber crops susceptible. Potatoes, Lilies, Turnips, Rutabagas, etc. Also plants which were pot-bound, suffer from club-root, or were over fertilized with nitrogen.

Predator Animals can do a lot to safeguard crops. Nearly everywhere in the US, you can find indigenous snakes, toads, frogs, swallows, bats, lizards, salamanders, and for aquatic crops, fish. Swallows, you either have them or you don't. Likewise the lizards may be few in number in cool areas, and won't stay put (unless you're in a warm climate). Everything else you can introduce to the garden or easily attract.

Predatory insects can be purchased or attracted with consideration to habitat. Keep in mind, some of the methods which kill the pests will also kill the predators. However, you can buy a 5lb bag of ladybugs pretty cheaply for aphid control (and that's a shit-ton of ladybugs).  Mantis eggs can be purchased cheaply. Parasitic wasps can be introduced, though the purchased species are never very helpful, a native predator of that pest is better.

Then you have parasitic organisms. Nematodes, bacteria, worms, even beetle fleas.

So far, this is all organic, food-safe and pretty damn effective (though you should take multiple approaches, or all of them for maximum benefit, no one method will be completely effective).

Getting into perennial trees and shrubs however, I'm not personally against the use of commercial pesticides. My rule is, never within 10 days of bloom (so as not to affect bees and other pollinators), and never after fruit is set. I use in the beginning of the season before bud-break and again in fall after harvest. Nothing which is sprayed is considered food, and I steer clear of insecticides which work within the plant biology. Only stuff which works on the surface.
Title: Re: harlequin bug control...
Post by: artephius on November 12, 2015, 08:07:52 AM
Thanks for such a thorough answer! That will definitely help me develop a plan for next year. I have been procrastinating about doing a soil test in particular, I guess I better get on that.

The strange thing about this invasion is that no one around here has ever seen these beetles before, maybe their emergence had something to do with the weird weather we had all year (colorado).

With a 2000 square foot garden I don't know that I could even make a dent hand picking, but I am making a lot of changes next year like more mulch and switching to drip irrigation finally. I've also got a great big compost pile and ingredients to do about 4 more over the next few months so hopefully all of this will make for healthier plants.

The silica compost tea sounds really interesting... I'll definitely have to try that. Would you just add those plants to your regular compost, and make tea as usual or would that be something more along the lines of a comfrey tea?
Title: Re: harlequin bug control...
Post by: I.L.W. on November 12, 2015, 11:38:14 AM
The silica compost tea sounds really interesting... I'll definitely have to try that. Would you just add those plants to your regular compost, and make tea as usual or would that be something more along the lines of a comfrey tea?

It would likely work better in a compost first. It's not raw silica the plant takes up, but larger molecules containing silica (calcium silicate is the most studied, potassium metasilicate however seems to be the most beneficial). You need it in a form that the organic molecules will bind up readily, otherwise it will wash out of the soil or remain there inert. The lower pH of a compost pile will help reduce it to an available form for foliar feeding. You could go either way with it though, whatever is easier.

You might consider amending the soil in the winter, in preparation for  the spring.

You can buy Wollastonite (Calcium Metasilicate) in a powdered form to turn into the soil, or add to your seed starting mix.
The recommended application rate is about 1,000lbs / acre. For 2,000 square feet, that's roughly 45lbs.

You can buy 50lb bags for about $20 from pottery craft shops, they use it in ceramics to harden clays and plasters. If purchased online, shipping can get expensive. You can get it through amazon in smaller quantities and simply add a smaller amount in your planting holes right at the root zone.  The effect is similar to that of lime, it will lower the pH in areas where applied.

Bulk (
Small Qty (

Horsetail is the highest concentration of silica you can easily grow. It's a rush (kinda... not exactly). Ancient plant... predates the evolution of leaves in fact. That means they're started from spore prints, much like ferns. Many people get upset when they order "seed" and are delivered a rolled up piece of paper with a couple of dark lines running across it instead, but that is the spore. It's a lot easier to get a cutting if it's not growing wild near you.

They are hardy, but definitely prefer warmth over cold to increase their reproductive spread. However, it sheds spores which are an irritant for some people, so it's not a good houseplant. If you're USDA zone 5 or lower, nettles will be more productive for you. Any nettle will do, as long as it stings. It's the stingers that contain the silica.
Title: Re: harlequin bug control...
Post by: artephius on November 13, 2015, 08:03:00 PM
That sounds good thanks. I'm working on preparing my beds this week so I'll work on getting that added to my compost that going in the beds.

Thanks for all the info! I'll do my best to incorporate as many of your suggestions as I can next year and hopefully these guys won't take over again.

I remember Jack mentioning some sort of birds eating Japanese beetles like candy, I'll have to see if I can dig up that old episode. I wonder if those same birds would eat these beetles -- building a few bird houses wouldn't be too hard and probably would have other benefits as well -- although with my luck they'd probably just eat my berries and leave the beetles alone.
Title: Re: harlequin bug control...
Post by: I.L.W. on November 14, 2015, 10:30:17 AM

Harlequin Bug...
Meet Harlequin Duck

It's serendipitous. The Welsh Harlequin duck breed seems to have the largest beetle appetite I've seen. All ducks eat bugs, but these guys go to town on japanese beetles. They're also fairly quiet and docile as duck temperaments go. However, their appetites are largely an individual characteristic. I'll see one duck eating nothing but insects, all day, every day. Another duck in the flock will seem content to pick at the tall grass, with little interest in hunting. If you go this route, you'll want at least two ducks and a drake.

Purple Martens

For opportunistic bug killers which will attack anything, nothing beats martens. They are wild birds, but also kinda domesticated. It's a co-evolution with humans. It's similar to the way gulls have learned that fastfood parking lots are feeders, and some flocks have become dependant on that. Martens in the US are 100% human dependant for housing and care. Native Americans have used bird houses (hollowed gourds in trees) for thousands of years to control insect populations. The martens became so accustomed to having these houses available that they changed their itinerary for seasonal migrations to South America and Mexico. Since in cool climates they return earlier in the season, and leave later, they need the artificial houses as protection from the elements. Their earlier arrival has also changed their main insect food sources and breeding time.

If you're not familiar with the bird, you probably would recognize their houses. They're the bird houses which rest on poles 20' off the ground. The higher, the better. The pole needs to be 20-30' away from structures or large trees to give them a landing path. You may initially get other bird species moving in, so you'll have to monitor the house at the beginning of the season, and clean out sparrow nests. One nesting marten will clear about 1000²ft of garden space. However, it won't necessarily be the area you specify. As such, it's worthwhile to erect multiple houses at least 50' apart. The poles should also have a "squirrel baffle" (the cones you place around young trees and bird feeders). That will keep squirrels and snakes from climbing the pole.

You mentioned you're in colorado. Their distribution there is fairly sparse, so it might take a couple of seasons to attract your first birds. However, they will return to their nesting site in subsequent years.

If you research martens, you'll find people are very passionate (and opinionated) about the topic. It's difficult to offer any specific advice without trampling anyone's ego, as the "right way" seems highly disputed. So I'll just say, check it out, do your research, and if this seems like it's a good fit for you, proceed in whichever way you determine to be best for your location and lifestyle.

Purple Marten call:
Good resource for house details:
Housing requirements for Martens
Title: Re: harlequin bug control...
Post by: artephius on November 16, 2015, 07:59:03 AM
Nice! I'm surprised I didn't come across the harlequin duck as I was searching around about these beetles! I'm still pondering about getting chickens or ducks next year (I'd love to, but I'm not sure I have the time available to take proper care of them - especially ducks).

I'll definitely look into attracting purple martens, that seems like a great way to go. The area where I live isn't really rural but its sort of a small "rural" oasis in the middle of urban/suburban hell so it's possible they might like it here or even be nearby already.

Title: Re: harlequin bug control...
Post by: I.L.W. on November 16, 2015, 07:07:05 PM
Ducks are pretty maintenance free, much easier than chickens to care for. They all forage, where some chicken breeds have lost that instinct and just wait by the feeder all day. They also are less destructive to garden plants, though they will trample mud all over the place.

Jack's videos on ducks will give you a good primer on what to expect. Just keep in mind, he's doing a high density system. There's a big difference between 3 ducks in a yard and 300. His system will require much more attention because he's capitalizing on egg production. 3 Ducks will give you 400-800 eggs a year, enough for most families. And you can pretty much just leave them alone and let them care for themselves. There would need to be some fencing or predator protection, and you might need to feed at certain times of the year depending on available forage and climate, but it's really no effort.

The only reservation is if you have dogs, it may require some time in dog training so they don't attack the ducks. Raised from puppies, it's a non issue, but older dogs who have established the area as their territory will be more prone to attacking. It's also a breed characteristic. My terrier will disembowel them on sight, regardless of his training. The moment I'm not looking, he tries to sneak a duck. It's not uncommon however for the ducks to bed down in the fur of my wolf hound, sleeping on his belly. Just a pile of ducks with a giant sleeping dog somewhere underneath. Even if you have dogs, it may not be a problem, but it's a definite consideration. Beyond that, there's no easier farm animal to raise.
Title: Re: harlequin bug control...
Post by: artephius on November 17, 2015, 09:57:20 AM
Yeah my biggest concern for duck raising was the lack of ponds/pools... I don't have time unfortunately to mess around with dumping (and more importantly re-filling) pools every day. I probably could come up with something for them to play in now and then during the summer, but unfortunately the way this house was plumbed it would be extremely annoying to try to keep a pool or something full for them during the winter. Pretty much the only option would be hauling buckets out from the kitchen!

That really does seem like the best solution though, ever since I saw Jack's ducks I've been wanting a few. I did make the mistake of buying some duck eggs this summer and now I don't like chicken eggs any more!