Trouble in our Cabbage Patch

It’s the time of year when farmers and gardeners alike are scouting crops and gardens for pests, disease and weeds.  This post is brought to us by guest blogger Getty Stewart of Veggie Delight and author of Prairie Fruit Cookbook

There’s trouble brewing in our cabbage patch.  It’s being invaded by flea beetles. These tiny, shiny little hoppers are wreaking havoc on my kohlrabi, broccoli and cabbage plants.

Flea beetles, 2-3 mm long (1/10 of an inch), chew tiny little holes in the leaves, particularly young, tender leaves.  The result is a lacy or “shothole” appearance.  If there are enough of them they can devour all the leaves of a plant, which severely slows or even kills the plant.

I first learned about flea beetles growing up on our family farm in Southwestern Manitoba.  I remember going “scouting” with my dad in our canola (canola, mustard, radishes and turnips are also members of the brassica genus and are equally susceptible to flea beetles as cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi).  We’d count how many flea beetles were on each plant in a particular sized area.  A few flea beetles are bearable; too many and the entire crop is at risk.

Now, I’m taking my kids scouting on our little brassica crop.  We’re counting how many flea beetles are on each plant.  If there’s only one or two, the plants will likely survive.  We counted up to 8 flea beetles per plant.  If it gets worse, our tender little plants will be stripped bare and likely won’t make it.  It’s time to take action.

The best defense against flea beetles in the garden is a floating row cover – a lightweight fabric that covers the plants while still allowing plenty of sunlight and rain through.  It provides a physical barrier around the plants that the flea beetles can’t penetrate (as long as you seal it tightly and there are no holes in your cover).  The floating row cover also provides protection against other pests like the cabbage root maggot and various moths and caterpillars that enjoy munching on these plants later in the summer.  These covers are available at most gardening centres, a 7′ x 50′ roll is about $20.

Having waited this long to cover my cabbage plants, we take the risk of trapping some of the flea beetles underneath the cover – even though we tried to shoo them away first.  Ideally, you should cover your new transplants the day you plant them, so these little pests can’t even begin to cause trouble.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll keep monitoring our cabbage patch to see how the plants are doing and if we’ve managed to keep the beetles at bay.  If all goes well we’ll be rewarded with some gorgeous broccoli like the one my son Aidan is proudly displaying from the summer of 2010. 

Have you gone scouting in your cabbage patch?

For more tips, recipes and ideas on garden pest control, kohlrabi, cauliflower or cabbage visit Getty’s family gardening blog www.veggiedelight.ca.

Here are a few highlights from Veggie Delight that are related to this topic:
Braised Red Cabbage Recipe
Growing Cauliflower
What is Kohlrabi and what do you do with it
Pest Control

Be Well…Getty

Getty is a Professional Home Economist, mom, gardener, speaker and writer.  She welcomes opportunities to share and express her passion for growing, harvesting and sharing local food with family and community.

She is the founder of Fruit Share a volunteer group that harvests and shares surplus fruit, author of the Prairie Fruit Cookbook: The Essential Guide to Picking, Preserving and Preparing Fruit and blogger at Veggie Delight a gardening blog that shares tips and ideas for growing a family garden in the prairies.

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