Monday, August 8, 2011

Blister Beetles

It had started as a random conversation.... someone I knew was talking to someone that they knew... and the someone that they knew couldn't sell their hay. They had a bug in the hay. A really bad bug. After a bit of conversing another person threw i that it was a blister beetle and stuck in a link to read about the offensive little creature.

I suppose it was fortuitous. Just the day before I had gotten a bug in my tomatoes. I didn't know what it was. Started to research it on the computer and really couldn't find anything similar. The closest photo ID was from the blister bug article. This made me cringe to think about. Five to ten of them consumed in hay can cause anything from a devastating bout of colic to lethal poisoning. We have had the right weather conditions too. Long hot dry periods following the arrival of grasshoppers. Sometimes you will only get thirty and sometimes you will get a whole swarm of the blister beetles.

So, I was trying to submerge myself into the world of the blister beetle. All of the university information was the same. Pretty much what I have written here. Some though said in certain stages of the life cycle the blister beetle is a beneficial insect. At larval stage they feed off grasshoppers. No doubt some dumb ass has helped spread them around the country. Just like some dumb ass introduced kudzu to the south as a good ground cover and another dumb ass introduced the asian lady beetle for the soybeans. Then I found this blog.... this wonderful blog! It was a gardening lady and she had more info then all the university pages combined. She also had comments of other wonderful gardeners that told how they had dealt with the blister beetle problem. The big caveat with the blister beetle is not to squish them with your bare hands. The toxin in them will cause large painful blisters, hence the name. Garden Lady recommended a mixture of garden lime and all purpose flour to be liberally dusted over the bugs. She did not know if this killed them or caused them to leave the vicinity. Some of her people that had shared comments suggested knocking the bugs into containers of soapy water. The dish soap would cause them to drown.

I thought about that for a bit..... dish soap. Dawn saves wild life because of it's ability to break down oils when creatures get caught in oil spills. A lot of the time things that creatures exude is of an oily nature, so perhaps this toxin is too. Screw mixing anything! I went to the garden with my dish soap. I was squirting the little buggers straight from the bottle. Anything that moved got a shot. The second the soap touched them they dropped to the ground. Then when it looked like I had the plants cleaned off, I got my garden lime out of the greenhouse and liberally dusted the area. The soap really caused the lime to stick to the bugs. Within ten minutes nothing was moving.

I haven't seen anymore of them but I do need to maintain a watchful eye. The last thing I want is to have these creatures in my hay. There are certain strategies I can use in future. Don't plant alfalfa in my hay. They are very much attracted to flowering alfalfa. Plant only early varieties so the majority of my haying is done before they ever arrive. If I don't have grasshoppers then I won't have blister beetles. So to get rid of the grasshoppers I will have more birds. I will have more bird habitat... more hedgerows. I need to start getting some chickens out there in chicken tractors.

As for the garden beds that the bugs occupied this year... they will have eggs. So I will need to turn over the beds this fall and I will burn on them. Next spring, I will cover them with compost and fresh horse manure, cover them with black plastic and let them cook for a year. They can go back into production in the following year.

I'll also mow my perimeter,as the beetles don't seem to like crossing open areas. Forget which source I read that one in.. I doubt it's truthfulness but I will try everything. Many of the sources said that the beetles would typically be found on the edges of a hay field not the interior, so I will mow and I think I will do my liming in the fall as well.... just in case it helps.

So.... I think I have a strategy for this. I'm ready for the next project which I think will be getting the new handles on my post hole digger. I don't want to look at the big picture. It is too daunting. Next project is four holes... just four holes. Project after that is another four holes. Then six holes. That's all. It doesn't sound near so bad when you say it that way!


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