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Dealing with Flea Beetles

Flea beetles love our eggplant seedlings. Love, as in, love to eat their tiny leaves. Annually. Flea beetles love to eat our eggplant seedlings’ leaves annually. Obviously, this is not a practice that we can allow to continue so we do what we can to minimize the flea beetles’ impact without resorting to pesticides.

Eggplant on the Vine

Flea beetles are small, so you might not notice them on plants right away. If they are present, however, you’ll likely notice their damage. Flea beetles chew holes in leaves, taking small bites and leaving the leaves with a lacy pattern of destruction. Specific types of flea beetles seem to like certain plants, so the damage you see from flea beetles will likely be limited to some related plants rather than over different plants your garden.

If you notice small holes in the seeding leaves, you’ll want to investigate. Look closely and you might see flea beetles. They are small and black, and, if you reach for them, you may see them jump, although they aren’t very fast . If you find more than 3 or 4 on a plant, you’ll want to take some action because, although they are small, flea beetles can do significant damage to seedlings.

Use your hands
The fastest way to have an immediate impact on your plants is to pick off and destroy any flea beetles you find. I divide insects into two major categories: squishable with bare fingers and squishable with gloves. Flea beetles fall into the first category because they are small and not messy. (Tomorrow I plan to write about Asparagus Beetles and their Larva, which are squishable with glove-type invaders.) You’ll want to check your plants daily at least for flea beetles and continue to remove and destroy them.

Cover the plants
Another control method that has worked well for us is to use our homemade, recycled DYI garden cloches to cover the seedlings for the first couple of weeks. This gives the eggplant seedlings a head-start on the flea beetles. Flea beetles really do the most damage early in the plant’s life; if the seedling only has 4 or 5 major leaves, flea beetle damage can slow down its growth or kill it altogether. Once the plant is established and growing well, any flea beetle damage has less of an impact, overall. Some people use floating row cover to protect their seedlings, but, since we don’t, I can’t speak for its success.

I’m also very interested in trying out home-made Sticky Traps as described here. I had not heard of Tanglefoot before, but it sounds like a good product and one that an organic gardener could use with no worries.

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