This Week in Bugs: The Flea Beetle

Bug Scale Rating: -2*

You’ve seen the damage they inflict–tiny little holes in our radish greens, kohlrabi leaves, and mesclun mix.  The greens look like they’ve been assaulted by an unstable David the Gnome wielding a tiny, gnome-sized pool cue (maybe smaller than David the Gnome, though–didn’t he ride a fox or something?).  Unfortunately, the real reason isn’t nearly so fanciful.

Can you spot the culprit?  Yup, it’s that unassuming little SOB of a speck at the bottom of the leaf–the hungry, hungry flea beetle.  At first, the damage wasn’t too crippling. Our radishes had trouble taking off and our spring mix was light on the mustard greens, but the pains were minor enough. We tried some random Internet remedies to keep the buggers at bay–we mulched the radishes and sprayed homemade catnip extract on the baby mustard greens, but saw little improvement. Whatever. We’re talking about radishes here.

But then things got a little personal. The flea beetles cozied up in the fragile leaves our eggplant transplants right after we got them into the ground.  After it was clear we had a problem, we revisited some of the recommended organic remedies.  We planted radishes in between the eggplants with the hopes of drawing the beetles away from the main crop–flea beetles are supposed to like radishes more than eggplants.  I’ll tell you what though, I’ve never seen a more pristine-looking radish in the fields of Root Mass Farm.

It’s been about a month and a half and the eggplants are finally starting to outpace the damage.  But I fear the yields may not.  So, lessons learned for next season:  grow the eggplant under row cover until it’s established enough to withstand the flea beetle damage.  In the meantime, try looking at this picture and thinking hostile thoughts.  We’re pretty much out of options.

*The Bug Scale is a made-up scale ranging from -5 to 5. Negative designations are given to harmful insects.  Positive designations are assigned to beneficial insects.  The number value is almost entirely arbitrary.