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Practical Controls for Colorado Potato Beetles
in the Home Garden


If you grow potatoes in the home garden then you need to deal with controlling a growing population of Colorado Potato Beetles. Non pestiside control has been mainly limited to hand picking beetles, knocking beetles and lavae into boxes, and the use of BT var San Diego (a natural disease of these beetles). We are working to test a combination of methods for the most efficient and easiest control throughout the season. Early in the season when the plants are still small and the adult beetles are the main problem we found a cheap and easy method of control by vacuuming the beetles from the plant and from the soil as the beetles fall to the ground. A vacuum method has been used commercially in some areas of the world. We are looking for an inexpensive setup of a combination of methods that would allow home gardeners an easy method of controlling beetles with less of the backbreaking and time consuming work of picking beetles or knocking them into boxes. The test began in the spring of 1998 and will continue through out the whole season. The site will be updated as the season progresses.

Stage One: Adult Beetle Emergence to First Hilling
Vacuum Method of Colorado Potato Beetle Collection.

Tools of the Trade

In this case a generator (in the cart) is supplying the power for the vacuum. Be sure to use a generator in accordance with manufacturers instructions especially as it relates to grounding. Do not use in wet conditions. Use a heavy duty outdoor extension cord. Park the generator in the middle of the row and work your way down the row.

Vacuuming Potato Beetles from the Row.

The vacuum is an inexpensive garage sale wet/dry model. It is surprisingly light and can be tied to your belt (through one of the handles) for easy carrying as you move down the rows. A stick is taped to the hose in this prototype model (with black tape) to allow the person collecting to walk without bending and aim the hose at the beetles. Keep the hose over your shoulder and watch your electrical cord so as not to drag on the potato plants behind you. We recommend the use of ear plugs to protect your hearing when using any loud machinery. You can walk between the plants when they are young and have few leaves. Later walk between the rows.

As you walk make sure your shadow does not upset the beetles into jumping off the plant. Vacuum all the beetles resting on the leaves near the top of the plant and then bend the plant over slightly with the vacuum hose and the go for the beetles under the plant (see photo below). Stay slightly above or to one side of the beetle and very little dirt or leaves are drawn into the vaccuum. If you are getting more than about 1/4 of the vacuum contents as leaves or garden soil then you need to stay further away from the beetles with the hose end. Beetles seem totally unharmed by the trip through the vacuum so dispose of the beetles as you normally do (for example dump them into water with a slight amount of soap to kill beetles fairly quickly and after about an half hour dispose of in compost).

A Beetle at this distance (to left of white hose) will be drawn into the vacuum hose.

Gently bend the plant over to look for beetles on the ground (note potatoes are not yet hilled).

Stage Two: Eggs Hatch: Grubs Emergence
Preventing and Controlling Outbreaks

Once the plants become larger (about 1st hilling) it is easier to knock the beetles into a box as you walk down the row than to use the vacuum method. This method takes a little practice but soon becomes a quick method of getting about 80 - 90% of the beetles. Adults tend to drop when disturbed so make sure you don't hit the plants hard. at the beginning of the stroke before the plant is over the box. Only a very few leaves should end up in the box.

Tools of the Trade
Garage sale hockey stick (curved blade preferred) and plastic lined shallow (10" deep) box with handle cut.

Carefully Move Plant Over Box
Beetles will drop to ground when disturbed, so make sure they are over box.

End Of Stroke Is Forceful To Knock Beetles Off
Release plant and slap plant forcefully back into box a second time to remove more beetles.

Working A Row Of Potatoes Takes Only A Few Minutes Once A Week (or more if needed)

More pictures will be added as the season progresses. Last Update: Aug. 1, 1998

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Counter started June 22, 1998