13 January 2011

A word about "bugs"...

After I wrote about my modest success growing cherry tomatoes here in Central Mexico a number of people mentioned that they have had little or no luck due, on part, to "bugs" or " la plaga" (lah PLAH-ga) as my wife Gina calls them, which means "the plague" in English. I must admit that there can be a problem but it has an easy solution and should not deter anyone from enjoying the delight of a ripe red, sun warmed cherry tomato bursting with flavor. Basically there are two types of bugs that injure these plants. One type is the chewing variety such as the "oruga" (oh- ROO-gah) or "caterpillar" and the other is the sucking variety such as the "pulgón" (puhl-GOHN) or "aphid". The sucking variety belong to the order "Hemitera". The Hemiptera are characterized by a beak called a "rostrum" with which they can pierce the outer covering of a plant and suck out the juice. There is a suborder of the Hemiptera called "Sternorrhyncha" which contains the subfamily "Eriosomatinae" or "Wooly Aphid" and also the subfamily "Aleyrodoidea" which contains the "White Fly". The Wooly Aphid or the White Fly are often what do the most damage to tomatoes and pepper plants.

Both the Wooly Aphid and the White Fly are innocuous looking creatures and most of the time people are unaware that they have an infestation until considerable damage has already been done. That's because these little pests are so tiny as you can see in the photos below. They look like little white specs of fly ash and only when you disturb them and they rise up in a little cloud like a miniature snow storm are you aware that they are even alive. They appear in the garden at this time of year because they like humidity and juicy plants. Fruit bearing plants are their favorites and both tomatoes and peppers are part of the "Solanaceae" or "Nightshade Family" and they are actually classified as fruits. We are between rainy seasons at the moment and the only place you generally find humidity and juicy plants from now until mid-May or early June is in a garden. The little buggers stick their snout into the plant tissue and suck out the juice. Little by little mold forms at the wounds and eventually the infested area of the plant turns yellow and then brown. The plant doesn't die but it becomes very stressed and may not grow very well or bear much fruit as a result. Eventually Lady Bugs and other friendly (to man) predator insects take care of the aphids and the white flies but in the meantime the damage has already been done.

What can be done about it? Well, the first thing you can do is bend over and look at your plants. Yes, bend way down and get to know them. For one thing it is good exercise and for another it is educational. You just might discover a new world. If you do have a pest problem with bugs the next thing to do, of course, is to get rid of them. Actually it is quite easy. A strong stream of water will knock them right off the plants. Keep doing this for a few days and the problem will be greatly reduced. A better method is to spray the plants with a solution of liquid dish soap and water, about a teaspoon per liter of water or so. It won't hurt the plants, especially if you rinse them off later, and you will drive the bugs completely away. Don't be tempted to use harsh chemicals because they are too hard to control. Oh, I keep a can of Raid Max around for zapping those big ugly cockroaches when they get in the house but that's as far as I go with chemicals. Like the beer people say, "Todo con medida"..."Everything in moderation".

Happy Gardening!


norm said...

Sulfur mixed in water is the best thing for acid loving plants that have bugs, white lime in powder form(dust) for things like peppers and squash, they both help the plant feed viva a proper PH and they kill those little bugs on contact. A little goes a long way. The bugs breath through little holes in their sides, the lime dust clogs up the holes, with the sulfur,it is just plain poison. Both are natural and will not harm humans in the small bit we need to kill the bugs but are very hard on bugs. I think you will like the results on your tomato production-those puppies love their acid soils.

Don Cuevas said...

Bob, thanks for the gardening tips. I'll pass them along to our jardinera, Doña Cuevas.

Don Cuevas

Bob Mrotek said...

Wow, Norm! Thanks for the tips. I am definitely going to try them. I forgot to mention that I have also had good results by spraying with a tea solution made from soaking powdered tobacco leaves that I bought at Walmart. Cheap and effective.

Don Cuevas, it is good to know that you have a gardener in the family to tie you to the earth. Otherwise I'm afraid that you might float away :)

- Mexican Trailrunner said...

Good post, Bob! My tomato plants have all succumbed to la plaga in the past.
Fortunately, a Mexican organic farm on the south shore successfully produces organic heirloom tomatoes in large quantities for us.
Good info post, I may try again!

Brenda said...

I have sprayed my tomato plant with dish soap/water 3 times now and still have white flies. GRRR
I think I have thinned them out a bit though ja ja ja.
Perhaps I will win, perhaps not.
I have also tried the tobacco spray.
Profeco site used to have homemade recipes for cleaners, etc.; but when I looked quickly for them today I cannot find them on their site, so I either looked too fast or they have taken them off. Quien sabe?
Here is the recipe:

1/2 litro agua limpia
el tabaco de 5 cigarros
1 cucharada sopera de jabon de pasta (rayado)

Caliente el agua en una cacerola a fuego alto (tapado)
Cuando suelte el primer hervor, anada el jabon, y el tabaco. mexcle con la cuchara y disminya la flama a la mita, deje hervir durante 5 minutos man.
Retire del fuego, tape la cacerola y deje remojar la mezcla

*caducidad por 7 meses.

I made this one time and it worked well; but never think to make it again.
Good luck with it.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

I have those wooly aphids in my orange tree or maybe something else similar.
What we get is tunnels in the leaves (leaf borer?) but it doesn't seem to affect the fruit, except maybe the yield is lower.
Thanks for all the info.

norm said...

The original Black Flag was made from something like your tea, I thought of saying something about the effect of tobacco extracts on bugs but figured that it might be too costly, what with the high tax on tobacco. Now if you can grow your own...

Bob Mrotek said...

Oh, oh, Norm, nada de esto "grow your own", eh :)

The tobacco powder cost about 80 pesos for a one pound bag and lasts a long time. You can use it to dust the leaves or you can make an infusion with it. I don't think it has a special tax but I don't know for sure. It doesn't have one here anyway :)

norm said...

I've never used the tobacco products on my gardens. I use a good bit of white lime, I use soap in water as a spray, a good bit of cooking oil on the fruit trees as a dormant oil, sulfur for fungus problems and acid loving plants. And the truth be told, the critters get more than their fare share, a pox on the deer, rabbits, groundhogs and racoons. I'm glad I do not have to depend on my garden and orchards to stay alive.

Bob Mrotek said...

You are right, Norm. I don't think people appreciate enough how much work goes into producing food. By the way, I checked at Walmart and the tobacco powder only costs 27 pesos per kilo and not 80 pesos per pound like I stated earlier. It is quite a bargain actually.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.