Help me kill the Flea Beetles eating my Eggplants!

mad_gardenerJune 2, 2009

For the past two years I have grown eggplant, only to have the flea beetles act it with a voracity that is both dismaying and horrifying. I have tried organic insect sprays at Lowe's, and a few mixes from Jerry Baker's Old Time Gardening Wisdom. Nothing seems to deter them! Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I can kill the little buggers so that I *might* enjoy an eggplant or two this summer? FYI - I try to stay away from toxic sprays and stay as organic as I can (although organic doesn't necessarily mean non-toxic, of course) as I don't want to kill off the beneficial bugs & don't want to sicken the birds that eat the bugs!

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Have they actually killed your plants? That would be unusual as most established plants can tolerate flea beetles and their short life cycle with little difficulty. The damage done to the leaves, while unattractive, isn't normally enough to damage the plant and doesn't usually inhibit the production at all.

Perhaps there was some other problem in conjunction with the flea beetles?

They are difficult to kill with sprays because they are so small and fast so rotenone dust on the leaves can help control, not eliminate but control, them.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 9:00PM
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roper2008 (7b)(7b)

I don't like to use sprays also. But if I want eggplant, I have to use
sevin dust while they are small. I sprinkle it very lightly. I have lots
of birds in my garden, but I don't think they eat flea beetles. They are
out looking for worms and caterpillars, and my blueberries.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:18PM
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Welcome to the club, mad_gardner,

I have the same problem. I have had this problem in the past too. Those fleas are tough to deal with because they got wings, can fly.
So best thing is to repel them. I just found this formula last night and I want to share it here. I should also mention that this is organic.
*** 1 quart of water
*** 1 tsp of baking soda
*** 1 tsp of NEEM oil

Note: Make sure water is warmer than 50F. Shake well the bottle before and while spraying, in order for the oil stay mixed with water.

Up until last night I did not know what "NEEM" oil is and wher you can get it. Fortunatly a PIKEs nursey nearby carried a concentrate NEEM oil (70%) plus 30% other. They claim that it would also kill certain fungi.
They recommend .5 Tble spoon per quart of water (2 TBL spoon/gal.) Of course, this is only 70% neem oil.
So with this one(which is also organic) I do not need to add baking soda/powder, because it is already formulated.
A 16 oz bottle cost me 16 bucks, that can make 8 gallons of spray ($2.00/gal). Not bad.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:22PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

I agree with Dave that plants usually will outgrow flea beetle damage, which is a peppering of very small holes in the leaves.

Damage from Colorado potato beetles is a different story. These pests love eggplants more than potatoes and will decimate eggplants in short order. Rotenone or sevin can be used. Hand picking might work if you are VERY diligent.


    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:26PM
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ppod(6 SE NY)

Colorado potato beetles posing for the camera,
....and the flea beetles.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:45PM
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ppod(6 SE NY)

Ups, too much inbreeding....

Pure-bred flea beetles, here they come....

Sorry, folks, getting giddy from all the GM foods I unknowingly had today....

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:52PM
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corin99(7b Triangle NC)

I find hand-picking to be very effective if started right after planting. If you let the population build up then you are in trouble.

I just use a small container of soapy water that I hold up to the leaves and knock the flea beetles into. A couple of times a day at first, but very soon I only have to do it a few times a week.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 11:51PM
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bleedenver(z7 GA)

I've been hand-picking and smushing flea beetles between my fingers for some weeks now. The first few days, I killed between 20-40 a day then was only able to find around 10 - 15 to kill per day after awhile. I just got back from a 4 day vacation a few days back and smushed 106 of the little buggers the day after I got back. They will decimate a small plant but don't seem to hurt the bigger ones too much if you stay on top of things.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 2:32AM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

Whenever I've tried to grow eggplants the flea beetles pretty much devour the seedlings within hours. These are not tiny seedlings  6 inches tall, with leaves a few inches across.

This year, at the suggestion of the Farmers Market Seedling Lady, I've put them in under row covers (lightweight, which lets in sun but excludes bugs). So far, they're still alive and no beetle holes. She told me this is the only thing that works for her, and it seems to do a good job for me. I chose a different corner of the garden from where I grew them last time so that any eggs or larvae would emerge outside the covers, and will probably move them again next year if they make it.

The Seedling Lady also said that the covers can be removed once the seedlings reach substantial size, 15" tall or so. Of course they must come off once the plants flower so that they can be pollinated.

So my suggestion for this year is: get some new seedlings and plant them under lightweight row covers very early in the morning and as far as possible from any you've already planted. Carry the covers with you to the garden, drape them loosely over the plants the second they're in the ground, and weight down the edges so the bugs can't get underneath. Water, if you need to, right through the covers, and never remove them until the plants are big.

Here is a link that might be useful: Row cover

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 6:13AM
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I'm fighting flea beetles on my eggplants as well. Last year they wiped out all my eggplants. Handheld cordless vacuum has helped quite a bit and I just recently applied some Espoma Earth-tome Insect Control. We'll see if the natural insecticide actually does any good at all.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 9:27AM
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west_texas_peg(8a West Cen TX)

In the past when I had flea beetles I read I could use ucg (used coffee grounds) and it worked.

This year is my first time to grow eggplants and I had some flea beetle damage on my plants right after I planted my transplants but they seemed to disappear probably because I add ucg's in all my garden beds now.


    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 10:58AM
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Wow, thanks for all of the tips! I'm going to try the Neem oil solution suggested (I actually have all the ingredients at home, believe it or not) and see if that helps. If it doesn't, I'll try the Rotenone or the Sevin. I am desperate for some suggested -- also, the suggestion about the hand-held vacuum is sheer brilliance! The thought hadn't even occurred to me, and I really didn't like the idea of having to squish the little buggers with my fingers! West Texas Peg, can you tell me how you used the used coffee grounds? Did you just sprinkle them around?

Anyway, if none of this works next year I might make a new raised bed and try a row cover...

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 8:17PM
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larenatc(8-Coastal SC)

Used UCG on my eggplants this year with success also. I put some on the ground around the plant and some on the leaves. It worked for a few weeks till my plants were well developed. I see the little holes returning and have something for them tomorrow.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 8:28PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

You can try planting sacrificial radishes around the egg plants, supposedly flea beetles like radishes better than other vegetables.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 8:54PM
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There are other insects (not flea beetles) that love egplants too. They look like common flies, a bit smaller.
You cannot, pick them, you cannot vacuum them either.

I don't know what they are called, but certainly they are not beetles. These flies also love horsenettles, another member of nightshade family; very close to eggplant.
With these flies all you can do is to repell them.And neem oil is a repellant not killer. The problem with these insect is when the plants are small. Grown up plant can survive pretty good.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 11:23PM
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Karen Pease

Are you referring to leafhoppers? I've had them on eggplant before.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2009 at 1:28PM
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west_texas_peg(8a West Cen TX)

I use Starbucks ucg. Those hockey pucks are dry which makes it easy to crush them as I hold them over the plant to 'dust' it with the coffee grounds.

Also top dress all my beds with ucg/tea leaves...never have enough!


    Bookmark   June 4, 2009 at 2:19PM
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homegardener2009(6b SE PA)

When I noticed little holes in my pepper and eggplant leaves, I sprayed them with Surround clay spray, and that seems to have worked.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2009 at 4:08PM
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I put a cage around my plants and cover the cage with tulle fabric. Keeps everything off! I use the same tulle-covered cages every year. I've been using dark purple to attract the sun. Same goes for my basil, those dern beetles basil too.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2009 at 1:06PM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

I like the tulle idea, o17 (btw, I'm o16)! I'd like to try it on basil, too.

It should work fine against Japanese Beetles. I'm surprised the mesh is fine enough to keep flea beetles away, on account of they're so tiny.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2009 at 1:33PM
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bleedenver(z7 GA)

Flea beetles only left the leaf veins on an eggplant seedling I had. I used an upside-down plastic round ice cream container with "windows" on the top and side covered by dryer sheets.

It worked great at preventing the flea beetles from doing further damage.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 9:00PM
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weedlady(Central OH 6)

Always the experimenter, and because of space considerations, I put 5 eggplant seedlings in one of my raised beds & covered them immediately with lightweight row cover. I had about another 4-5 plants left that I scattered here & there among other crops. (I mix a lot of things together--I think it is better than monoculture for several reasons, but mostly to confuse insect & to ensure not everything is using the same nutrients.)
The eggplants all went into the ground the same day, but the ones under the row cover grew much faster, are at least a third again as tall, more robust, and set buds earlier than the others. I wonder if it was the "greenhouse effect" with the reemay providing shelter from the winds we often had this spring in addition to trapping more heat.

None of the plants, covered or not, have been attacked by any insects. Since this is my first garden in our new place, I figure part of this is "beginner's luck" (although I am a gardener with 40 years experience!) in that the bugs have not arrived yet! The other reason may well be the fact that I am planting in pure compost obtained from our local municipal yard waste recycling facility. No sewage sludge added; the compost is made on-site from the leaves, grass clippings, tree & shrub trimmings, wood chips from the power companies, landscapers' discards, etc.

In previous gardens I have used DE with success in combatting flea beetles. Used to use rotenone, but since it is an equal-opportunity bug slayer and therefore bad for bees, I quit. I have been known to use it on plants that have not yet flowered, tho not for years.

I also covered 3 of 7 broccoli plants w/reemay and resulting growth rate effect same as eggplant--bigger, faster, stronger. They are heading up before the uncovered plants. Ditto growth of cucumbers, covered vs. uncovered. So I will be using more row cover next spring! CK

I have a wide variety of veggies and have been harvesting all sorts of salad greens, peas, early potatoes, etc., and everything is growing like mad, healthy, and a rich green (except for some melon seedlings that are inexplicably sulking along & just sitting there (no row cover!). Never have been a hand at melons... Other cucurbits do just fine for me. DH does not like melons, so I think he puts a hex on them from the get-go!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 11:29PM
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ppod(6 SE NY)

DE dried my eggplant leaves severely, so I learned my lesson only to use DE on the soil. However, DE works only when dry (by desiccating, sometimes to death, everything it comes into contact with, be it good or bad bugs).

UGGs sound like a great food-safe bug repellent, and they (UGGs) remain active after rains, which is a great plus in their favor.

I've started using left-over brewed coffee, and it's amazingly effective, even slugs don't like it. Being tiny, perhaps brewed coffee would kill flea beetles? Worth a try.

The active pest control ingredient is caffeine, according to the USDA, Hilo, Hawaii.

Note: someone mentioned that Nitrogen will set beans back. UCGs contain a little N, and so does brewed coffee, so I would not spray bean leaves w/the brew.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 1:09AM
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I love information and the patience to allow myself to absorb it. Thank you.

Take care,

    Bookmark   November 7, 2011 at 10:01PM
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I believe sparsely planting with tomatoes, etc. seems to deter them somewhat.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 12:11PM
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I agree that planting with tomatoes helps deter them. I have a huge flea beetle problem but noticed that one eggplant was untouched--the spare seedling that didnt die in the compost heap and just happened to be next to a cherry tomato plant. Year after that, I planted all my eggplants next to tomatoes except for 2 or 3 plants and, lo and behold, the eggplant next to the tomatoes were fine but the other ones were completely overtaken by flea beetles. I am going to plant all my eggplant in containers next to cherry tomato plants. This does the trick.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 1:10AM
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I don't know what some of these post are talking about. A flea beetle is the size of a pin head, and they do not fly. However a can jump quite a distance for there size.
Make sure there is no weeds or other vegetation around the plant. If you put down black plastic in a row and plant the eggplant through the plastic, that will help.
One thing you can try is the sticky goo I use for the apple maggot fly. Use a piece of bright yellow plastic card covered with the goo. They are attracted to the color and will get stuck in the in the goo. Depending on the number of beetle, you might have to replace the card or clean it. Vegetable oil is use as a solvent for the goo and then some soap and water. reapply the goo. I would use a piece a card 4" x 6" at each plant.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 11:31AM
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austransplant(MD 7)

The following help a lot for me.

1. Robust good sized seedlings.

2. Grow them in black plastic or similar mulch. The beetles seem to prefer the soil surface to this.

3. Spray the young plants with Surround, a special micro-refined Kaolin clay used to spray fruit trees. This coats the leaves with a fine clay dust which insects find clogs up their breathing holes. Surround is perfectly harmless to humans and approved for organic use, but is rather expensive.

Floating row cover is probably also useful, but I've not tried it.

Once the plants get to a decent size I find flea beetles are no longer a problem.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 3:04PM
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You just might be interested in this
surround/kaolin spray
An organic powder, very safe and effective for pest control.
Also provides good sun protection
google it to find out.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 10:44PM
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chervil2(z5 MA)

I will add that eggplant variety is critical determinant in health, well-being, productivity, and insect resistance. I find that certain varieties are complete duds for my soil and climate and remain small, stunted, and vulnerable to insect pests. Orient Express from Johnnys Seeds does well for me. Diamond eggplant from Fedco was a terrible variety in my garden and almost all the tiny and unhealthy seedlings died of flea beetle consumption.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2013 at 9:21AM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

I seem to have this this year, though I haven't seen a flea beetle yet!
My tomatillas and beans seem to be affected. I'll have to look at everything else to make sure! Nancy

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 1:30AM
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The little black hopping flea beetles are easily killed with a combo on hand picking and a daily dose of soap suds spray. The attack usually settles down after 6 weeks or so and then the plant will take off.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 7:28AM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

If you don't have holes in eggplant leaves does that mean there are no flea beetles?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2013 at 6:16PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Flea beetles LOVE eggplant leaves. However, the damage is only critical at the seedling stage. Thus , after the plant is established, FB cannot harm it seriously.

I have had FB problem for years and have discovered a simple solution: NYLON TULLE. Just throw some fine mesh NT on the plant. FB will not be able to it(make holes in) it. Chemicals/sprays MAY discourage FB butcannot destroy them. THEY HAVE WING, THEY CAN FLY. !!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2013 at 7:10PM
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My mother-in-law used to go down the row with her flour sifter, worked on cole crops and eggplant too Back in that day, there were no pesticides much to work with, they had to find their own ways to deal with pests.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2013 at 10:30AM
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