Even though it’s still mid-winter, I’m making my plans for a successful spring and summer garden. I’ll need to plant and work smart because just under the surface of the grass outside there are thousands of problems biding their time.
Every year now, for the last few seasons, Japanese beetles have made their appearance right around the first week of June. This is also the time of year when many of my garden vegetable groupings are young, succulent and the most susceptible to insect attacks. One of these will be a large planting of pole and bush beans, which by June are normally just getting ready to produce bean pods. Turns out they are also a favorite food of this beetle.
Known scientifically as popilla japonica, these pests originally arrived on our east coast sometime in the early 1900’s and have been spreading westward ever since. These days, you can find scattered throughout much of the Midwest. The beetle that is about 15 millimeters (0.6 in) long and 10 millimeters (0.4 in) wide, with iridescent copper-colored elytra and green thorax and head. It’s not very destructive in Japan, where it is controlled by natural enemies, but in America it is a serious pest of over 200 species of plants, including; rose bushes, grapes, hops, canna, crape myrtles and beans of course.
I have literally had an entire crop reduced to stubble in just a few days after a horde of beetles descended upon them. And while most insecticides will work on them, who wants to spray poison on their plants? Hand picking is another option, but it’s a pain. So, what else is there? Plant early and cover!
By planting your beans as soon as the soil hits about fifty five degrees, you can get an earlier than normal start on a bean crop before the beetles even awake from their winter slumber. That way, by the time they are out and about, you have a healthy group of plants that can endure a lot in the way of damage. But, as they say in the commercials, that’s not all! I also like to use a very thin material called reemay to cover all my crops, not just the beans. This material is so light and transparent that it does not impede growth, but which is a very effective barrier to all sorts of nasty insects. It’s also relatively inexpensive, so I use it to also cover just about everything I can. By the end of June, the beetles are gone and so off come the covers.
Last year, when I did this, I was able to enjoy great production with everything I planted excepting the tomatoes. Those guys have always been a challenge for me to grow well.