We have “green spotted ladybugs” in our garden eating leaves and flowers. This is what I first thought when we lived in Marin County (north of San Francisco) and I’d see a few of these a year. But now, living along the central coast, I have hundreds of these pests invading my garden each year, starting in about June! They are not “ladybugs”! They are not beneficial insects. They are BAD BUGS known as the Western Spotted Cucumber Beetle or Diabrotica undecimpunctata. They feed on crops and flowers. They have no predators. Some say that birds eat them but chickens avoid them. They must not be tasty and delicious because my hens will normally eat most everything!
The spotted cucumber beetle is out in force this year due to the mild winter. They feed on leaves and blossoms and lay their eggs in the soil below. The larva look like tiny green worms. If the winter cold doesn’t kill them, they hatch and fly or crawl to the branches above. They can go through several of these cycles each year.
When my two granddaughters were visiting this month I put them to work in the garden. Ages 4 and 7, they like to earn money for doing chores. I offered them a penny for each cucumber beetle they killed. Within 30 minutes I was out a dollar and they had drowned a hundred of the little pests. They repeated the labor the next day and would have every day of their visit if it weren’t for child labor laws and had they not gone off to the Monterey Aquarium and the Forth of July parade in Cayucos to spend their money. Lots of fun-filled days and my cucumber beetles were much diminished!
Now I can’t tell you how to rid your garden entirely of these beetles, but I can tell you how to reduce their numbers. Put soapy water into a small bowl. Wander the garden each morning for 10-15 minutes. The beetles are slow in the morning and will be less inclined to fly away when they see a “giant” hovering over them. Put the bowl beneath him if he tries to drop into the soil below. Knock the bug into the soapy water. He won’t suffer long and you’ll have one less beetle in your garden to deal with. Good luck central coast gardeners. This pest is the price we pay to live in such a beautiful, mild, climate. For more information on decreasing the numbers of cucumber beetles in your garden, see the article in this blog that I wrote in my frustration several years ago.