My War with the Harlequin Beetles

My first year as a gardener at Crows Woods started fine. My lettuce, radishes, onions, beets and beans were coming fine. Coming from a cold climate in Sweden, I enjoyed the warm New Jersey summer.

In the garden I discovered all kinds of birds, butterflies, and insects, and I felt good about them. I also found a little rabbit nest under my peas. It was oval, made from dry grass and soft rabbit hair and had two miniature rabbits in it. When I accidently discovered them and removed their roof over their heads, the pea plants that were dead, they moved in under my tomatoes and I hoped that their mother would find them -- not that I really wanted a rabbit family in my little garden, but they were so small, helpless, and cute.

Uninvited Guests

In the end of June, I started seeing beautiful black and yellow beetles that I had never seen before. At first I didn't see the harm they were doing, but after a while I realized that they, and not I, were going to eat all my broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I asked fellow gardeners for advice, and Mary Previte identified them for me.

Death by Drowning

After googling harlequin beetles and websites about organic gardening, I started picking the beetles by hand. I used gloves. I used a glass jar with water and salt to drown them in. They swam for a long while before drowning, so I switched to have a little dishwashing detergent in the water. That made them drown much faster.

Picking 200 Beetles

The f irst day I picked 200 beetles, mostly adults. Next day, 100 beetles. After a few days of picking them by hand and drowning them, I had to pick only about 50 a day in different sizes, until there were almost none. For a while I felt a victorious, maybe I even bragged a little about it to gardeners who wanted to listen to me. That victorious feeling went out the window when a new generation of beetles had hatched. Then I started all over again to pick them and drown them, and also learned how the eggs and aphids look. To kill them I started spraying them with water and a little dish water solution.

For some weeks everything started to look good, until I went away for ten days to visit my family. When I came back, the beetles had won the battle. I gave up and took away the plants. There are just so many bugs I am willing to pick by hand, one at a time.

If Washington DC, where I live now, also has community gardens, I might try to grow something there this summer. I wonder what challenges they have. Editor’s note: Harlequin beetles are in the stink bug family.#

Karin Walzman, Plot # 51A