C is for Colorado Beetles

It was stripy and looked cute insofar a beetle could look cute.  I had met my first Colorado Beetle. ”You don’t look like you could do much damage.” I told it.

My potato plants were still small but I felt a sense of pride.  Planting had taken place under the watchful eye of villager J who kept telling me I was doing it all wrong. Keen to advise, everyone told me I had to use pesticides. I was planning to do it without. I wasn’t even willing to use copper sulphate like the rest of the villagers did.

I tend to tackle life in a  I cross those bridges when I get to them way and I would use that same strategy in potato husbandry.

”But you can’t grow potatoes without pesticides.” villager C pointed out, chin in air for added even though you’re taller than me I can look down on you effect.  “You really can’t grow potatoes without pesticides. You ought to listen. We know.”

“Only a few centuries ago people believed the world was flat, who says you’re right?” I mocked.  “Just leave me to it.” He shook his head in dismay.

I enjoy experimenting. I also like opportunities to prove the impossible is possible, and I was adamant I’d show people I could beat the Colorado beetle without pesticides.  And I might as well admit, not just for the love of nature and all that, but because I love being right.

“But you can’t grow potatoes without pesticides.” villager M pointed out when it was her turn. “You really can’t grow potatoes without pesticides. You ought to listen. We know.”

”Of course you know.  I appreciate you all have knowledge which can be useful to me, and I do listen,  but… have you ever tried though? I asked her.  She looked at me slightly puzzled. No. She said. No, she hadn’t tried to grow them without. “Well then, just leave me to it. It’s worth a try.”

I watched my potatoes every few days or so and apart from a bit of mildew which I managed to control with pulling off the brown leaves all seemed ok.

Enraged Enrique’s mum came to warn me about trouble in Potato Paradise thinking the wild boar had entered the patch,  but she had mistaken  my efforts to earth up my potato patch for a wild boar having ploughed through it.  ”It is a technique you don’t use here.” I explained.

The silly foreigner who knew nothing might in fact know something.

And apart from that one lonely beetle, there was  no sign of his mates yet.

“No, Not yet. But when the beetles come you have to pick them from the leaves and collect them in pots  of water so they drown. It’s what my mum used to do.” one villager advised me .  “And keep them because they taste delicious in tortillas.”   added another smirking, while they shared furtive glances  in the hope I’d believe them.  The pot technique was serious though. I’d already heard about that before.

And so when the first beetles eventually  came I still managed to stay on top of it.  There were a lot though, but I picked them off the plants.

By the time I had learnt via the internet that the beetles themselves weren’t the problem, but the larvae, it was too late. The beetles  had laid their eggs underneath the leaves, patches of yellow clusters, out of which within a few days the larvae hatched.

To the unexperienced eye they looked like ladybirds. Except they’d swell up within days to the size of cranberries, full of potato leaf juice.

All those yellow clusters  had been hanging underneath the leaves while I had been picking off the beetles. And the lot had hatched. It wasn’t cute.  The  potato plants looked like  miniature cherry trees in mid summer  with a gorgeous crop waiting to be picked.

I wanted to cry.

”We told you that you couldn’t grow potatoes without pesticides.” Villager C’s wife pointed out. “You really can’t grow potatoes without pesticides. You ought to have listened. ”

Close to defeat I wanted to admit to her that she was right. “But you used to deal with this. In the olden times before pesticides. There must have been a time when you didn’t use pesticides.”  It was to be my last shot.

She thought for a moment. ”Come to think of it…my mum used to get some branches and sweep them off the plants. It always took the larvae a while to climb back up the plants.”

Now that was an idea. It also had occurred to me that those beetles used to drop themselves on the floor,  on their backs , and their brown bellies made them difficult to spot. Their defense mechanism.  I ought to use their defenses against them.

Armed with big bucket I tried. I quickly tapped  a plant, and indeed, most of the beetles as well as larvae ended in the bucket.

And this method actually works.

I accept I’ll never get as big a crop as the rest of the villagers, as the beetles will always destroy some potatoplants, but at least the villagers taught me something. To always ask how their mothers used to do things in the olden times.

Potato field

Potato field

Colorado Beetle

Colorado Beetle



Colorado beetles and larvae

Colorado beetles and larvae

Potato crop

Potato crop

14 thoughts on “C is for Colorado Beetles

  1. Ew, gosh that sounds nasty. We’ve never had a problem with them here *knocks frantically on wood* but last year wild boar dug up and ate my entire crop overnight 😦 Interesting that your neighbours all use pesticides, as my closest neighbours tend to avoid them, although they do use copper sulphate on tomatoes.

    • It is horrific. You cannot imagine the devastation until you see them in action. I’ve tried different methods, spraying with nettle juice, growing patches in fern compost (fern tends to deter bugs I was told) nothing works. Only thing perhaps is growing crop very early. You probably find the reason your neighbours don’t use pesticides is because there is genuinely no need…People don’t like using them here either, but with larger crops…nothing would be left. Mildew is rife here hence they use copper sulphate, I’ve never used it. As for boar, big problem in the area this year. One of the villagers summed it up to me the other day, ”if it isn’t the governnent f***ing us over, then it’s the boar and we’re not allowed to shoot it…”

  2. Interesting. I wonder if you could use a row cover (thinnish material covering the potato plants) unless they burrow underneath? I sympathize w/ the gardening plight. I’ve had many.
    The other gardening thing I’ve heard is that the healthier the soil is, the more resilient the plants are. If there’s any soil deficiency… I’m going to ask a gardening friend if he knows about this bug. (BTW, potato plants are tricky to grow in Hawaii.)

    • No plants can withstand these monsters…Some villagers are convinced big pharma’s are behind it, dropping bugs from planes so they have to keep buying pesticides….
      I can imagine potato plants being tricky to grow in Hawaii…Potato plants officially came from Peru though I believe…The way people grow them in rows in general (mono crop) doesn’t really do the plant a lot of good…

  3. Your Spanish village life sounds like my dream home. But then I read this entry and wonder I’d really have the patience of doing anything agricultural for a sustained period of time. Glad your potato problem got worked out and I’m sure they will taste great.

  4. Interesting post. Here in Colorado, USA we are dealing with pine beetles that are devastating the lodgepole pine forests. Most of the lodgepoles have been destroyed. The dead trees are a disaster waiting to happen because they are the perfect fuel for forest fires. It sounds as if you’ve come up with a workaround so I hope you try to continue and grow your potatoes naturally.

    Good Luck,
    Dan Miller

  5. What is it about potato plants? Here in Australia, we have the 28 spot ladybeetle that attacks them. Their larve burrow into the stem under the ground and kill the plant. I’ve had a bit of success covering the plants in netting, or growing in winter (which is very mild here, but enough to keep the bugs away).

    Rinelle Grey

  6. These pests can strip your potato vines in short order if you get an infestation. I have successfully sprayed for them before. They can also come back in the same area the next year.

  7. Pingback: K is for Knowledge | CHICADEROCK

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