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Joanna and I read yesterday's exchanges about Japanese beetle with great
interest; having run a diversified fruit/vegetable farm for the last
decade, we have all too much experience with these little devils. I wish
they'd focus on eating Japanese honeysuckle rather than our apple trees,
blueberry bushes, and bean plants. Last year and this year are the worst
outbreak we've seen.

I have never observed a wild bird eating a meaningful number of JBs, nor
had any sense that natural control was happening. There are a few
parasitic insects out there, but they don't seem to have a meaningful
effect overall. But the one bird that adores them is the domestic chicken.
Our flock of 10 or so hens can devour gallons of beetles per day; they
absolutely adore them. Last year, feed consumption dropped noticeably at
the height of beetle season.

We use two methods of control. First, as noted before, you can knock them
off into buckets of water. In my experience soap is not necessary as long
as the bucket is smooth-sided so they can't climb out. This works best in
the morning, when the beetles are sluggish and dew is still present. Once
things dry out and the beetles warm up, they'll just swarm away when you
shake the plant. But in the morning, most will simply fall off into the
bucket. At this point, the bucket 'o beetles can either be left out in the
sun to let them drown or fed to chickens if you or a friend/neighbor has
some. This is another reason not to use soap; you then aren't dumping
soapy water on the ground or to the chickens.

Second, we use a preventative measure called Surround. This is a kaolinite
clay which is mixed with water and sprayed onto any vegetation you wish to
protect. The clay leaves a thin white film on the leaves that really
deters JBs. It's one of the more common and benign applications used by
organic farmers (which we were officially for five years). This may not be
as accessible to home growers; I don't know if a small-scale version is
available (we mix and apply it in a backpack sprayer). There are several
keys to using Surround.

It's a preventative measure, not an insecticide, so ideally its
application should start before the JBs get bad. In our understanding,
once JBs start to damage a plant, a chemical signal is released that keeps
drawing more in. Also, damaged leaves don't hold the clay film as well.
Heavy rain can wash it off, it needs to be reapplied as necessary. It's
definitely a pain to use, but very effective when it stays on undamaged
leaves.

Otherwise, JBs are just one of many invasive plagues spreading across the
landscape and making life difficult. They act like an outbreak population,
peaking long enough to drive one to despair before fading away by late
summer. One can only hope that, in time, the ecosystem will adjust and
some more native predators will learn from the chickens about this
abundant crunchy source of protein just sitting there.

Eric Reuter
Boone County, MO

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