Thursday, January 22, 2015

Isaac's Potato Bug Battles

While reading from the 1911 book "Progressive Farming" given to me by a friend, I was excited to find this diagram of the stages of the Colorado Potato Beetle.  This insect was one of Isaac Werner's worst farming enemies!

Potatoes and corn were Isaac's primary crops, and he was especially known for his outstanding potatoes.  (See "Isaac's Potatoes," 2/27/2014, blog archives, for a comparison of Isaac's growing and harvesting methods with those of a modern farmer in his old community.)  In addition to marketing his potatoes throughout the region after harvesting them, (See "The Trip to Sun City," 2/20/2014 blog archives, about his marketing trips), he also stored potatoes in his cellar during the winter to be used as seed potatoes in his own fields the following season and to be sold to other farmers as seed potatoes.

He struggled with the lack of rain when it was needed, the cooking of potatoes in the hot summer soil, the difficulty of finding laborers when the potatoes needed harvesting, the problems of storage as they were harvested, and the need to keep fires going in his cellar when winter temperatures dropped.  However, his biggest problem was battling the invasions of what he called the Colorado Potato Bugs.  If they could not be controlled when they attacked his plants, none of the other chores would be relevant, for he would have no potatoes to harvest if the bugs destroyed his plants.

The beetles lay their oval-shaped, yellow to orange eggs on the undersides of leaves, each cluster containing 10 to 30 eggs, with one plant hosting as many as 500 eggs.  The hatched larvae reveal their age by color and size--progressing from red to orange to tan with 2 rows of black dots along their sides and increasing in size as they consume the leaves of the plant.  It is this stage that is the most destructive.

However, it was the mature beetle that Isaac attacked, initially hand picking each bug off the plants, and when the job was too much to do alone, hiring Mrs. Ross and her children to help.  Because of the inefficiency of hand picking the bugs, he began poisoning them with Paris Green, a powder he mixed with water.

What Isaac may not have known was that pupae overwinter in the soil of harvested potato fields and emerge to begin a new infestation each spring.  Adults can fly several miles to find host plants, but once Isaac's fields were found, the annual infestation probably came out of his own soil.  Each generation takes 5 to 8 weeks, meaning that Isaac might have thought he had the infestation conquered for the season, only to have a second generation of potato bugs attack his plants.

It is my opinion that the Paris Green that Isaac used to fight the bugs poisoned more than just the Colorado Potato Beetles...but that is another story!

Using the Blog Archives:  If you wish to find a blog in the archives, go to the upper right corner of this page and click on the year in which the blog was published, then click on the month it was published and the blogs for that month will open.  Scroll down to the blog you wish to read.

1 comment:

The Blog Fodder said...

My grandfather spent a dollar for a mail order organic potato bug killer. It turned out to be two blocks of wood with instructions to put the bug on one block and hit it with the other. In the 30's a dollar was hard to come by but Grandpa said he needed the laugh and it was well worth it.
Colorado Potato Beetles are a plague in Ukraine too. In 1999 they almost overwhelmed the country's potato crop.