There’s exciting news coming out of Long Beach. Community gardeners are fighting the battle of the bugs – with weeds. Mexican marigolds and other weeds are allowed to flower to attract beneficial insects. Then, before they go to seed, the weeds are cut and used as mulch. The obvious question : Does it work? ……………… Growing2-marigold ……….

Ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, it seems like we’re lucky to get anything to grow. Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee. (Genesis 3:17) I notice that insects are not mentioned. This Biblical curse ~ I take it personally. I head into the vegetable garden and there they are ~ bugs, beetles, and borers. There’s the chewing worms ~ the tomato hornworm, cabbageworm, pickleworm, earworm. And the near-impossible-to-spot-until-it’s-too-late gang ~ whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, spidermites. And The Family Beetle ~ potato, cucumber, Japanese, Mexican, flea, asparagus. At the scene of the crime, at or below ground, are cutworms, root maggots, earwigs, slugs and snails. I inspect the lilies ~ I’m seeing red!  There, sunning itself on the leaves and flower buds of my Asiatic and Oriental hybrid lilies, is Lilioceris lilii.  Otherwise known as Red Lily Leaf Beetle. …………… Lily leaf beetle ………… It arrived in the US with bulbs imported from Europe where it’s not a problem for growers because of parasites that feed on it and keep it in check. (Another obvious question : What is that parasite and why don’t we have it?) The RLLB is about the size of a rather narrow ladybug without spots. It does two things ~ eat and mate. ……….. Red Lily Leaf Beetle ………. Here’s the dirt on these miserable little squeakers : (BTW, they have a unique defense mechanism to deter predators ~ they squeak when gently squeezed. You have to really listen hard.) RLLBs over-winter in the soil or in plant debris after fall frost. In early spring, they mate and quickly deposit hundreds of tiny dull-orange eggs that turn brown on the undersides of leaves, in clusters of two to ten. ……… Lily leaf beetle eggs ……… Hatch occurs in five to ten days, after which the larvae feed for a few weeks, growing rapidly (to about twice the size of the parents) and feeding heartily. Vulnerable to predators during this “soft” feeding stage, larvae cover themselves in their own sticky, mud-like excrement as a defense against attack. Yuck. They look like small dirty slugs. If you scrape the feces away, you see a soft, dull-red beetle whose wing cases haven’t hardened yet. Been there, dung that. …………… lily leaf beetle larvae ………. At this point, larvae (which cause more damage than adults) either crawl or drop to the ground where they pupate in secreted cocoons. In a few weeks, a fully mature adult emerges and the process begins again. There can be as many as three generations in a single season. ………… Red Lily Leaf Beetle ………

My defense strategy? Patrol, Pluck and Drown. To keep ahead of these disgusting slug-like creatures, there’s only one way ~ in the words of Mad Eye Moody (Harry Potter) ~ Constant Vigilance!  I scrape each lily leaf of eggs and larvae, crush every red beetle I can find. It’s hard to pick them off because they curl up, drop to the ground, black belly facing up ~ they’re almost impossible to see. I put a sheet of white cardboard covered with petroleum jelly on the area under the plant, then knock them off with a stick, and stuff the whole mess into a plastic bag. Thorns and thistles? The real curse is the bulletproof bug.  Sigh. A slugfest without end. I don’t have Mad Eye Moody’s sinister revolving eye, not even a counter curse, but I’m not the kind of gardener that can be intimidated. Don’t turn your back on me, Red Lily Leaf Beetle! ………. …… Toni 7/25/11


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