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Sarah Stultz: Potato bugs, beetles and squash bugs, oh my!

Nose for News by Sarah Stultz


Creepy-crawly things have always given me the heebie-jeebies.

It’s one thing to find an occasional spider or centipede in the comfort of my house.

But it can be a whole other situation coming across bugs outside in their natural habitat. Where there was one in the house, usually outside there’s many, many more.

This week and last at my community garden plot, I’ve dealt with bugs on a different level.

With any garden, there’s always the threat of insects and other garden invaders.

In the gardens I’ve had over the last decade, I’ve learned that loud and clear.

For a couple years, it was deer and other four-legged critters. The last few years, however, it has been dealing with the six-legged variety.

At first, it was potato bugs. We had those two years ago when we first had a plot at this community garden, and, unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a handle on those bugs. They decimated my potato plants and led to small yields of potatoes.

We’ve also had bad experiences with squash bugs, which destroyed many zucchinis and their plants, and this year on top of those two, we’ve also gotten a taste of Japanese beetles.

From the looks and sounds of things, the Japanese beetles are awful this year for many in the community garden and elsewhere. I’ve seen them on everything from corn in my garden and my neighbor’s garden, to green beans on one side of the garden and potato plants on the other side.

Japanese beetles were first found in the United States in 1916 in a nursery in southern New Jersey. By 1972, beetle infestations had been reported in 22 states east of the Mississippi River. Since then, the bug has spread further west and south. It has been present in Minnesota for decades, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The beetles are known to skeletonize the plants they chew on, leaving leaf veins intact but eating the remainder of the leaf.

The Department of Agriculture states the adult beetles lay eggs in the soil, and the larvae live in the soil feeding on the roots of grass until they pupate into adult beetles and emerge the following year. The thought of it makes me shudder.

The department states the beetles have been confirmed in Freeborn County, but they are not considered “abundant” yet, which is a scary thought.

From my research of all three of these bugs, I’m finding one of the most effective ways to get them out of the garden is by handpicking them off. The thought of that makes me want to run the other direction, and I’m getting nauseous just thinking about it.

Does anyone else have any solutions that have worked for you? I’d be curious to hear. Please reach out to me at sarah.stultz@albertleatribune.com or send me a note at 808 W. Front St. in Albert Lea.

The next month will be exciting in the garden, as long as I can get a handle on these bugs.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Tuesday.