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Image Credit: "Nisotra flea beetle from West-Java" by gbohne is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Can Plant Health Actually Repel Flea Beetles?

October 29th, 2021

Flea beetles can be a bane of our consulting mission, because there is no special nutritional sauce that knocks them out.

 

We often encounter the worst flea beetle problems on very young brassicas, like arugula or kale, and on spring eggplant.

The problem is that beetles have a complex digestive system, protective exoskeletons, high mobility, and limited predators. That complex digestive system means they can eat holes directly through the leaf, and chew up the whole thing. Beetles can survive on a greater variety of food sources than other insects, they’re tough. When they are particularly attracted to a certain type of plant, like they are with baby cole-crop greens, it needs to be at a very high level of health in order to repel them. This can happen, but is really difficult in early spring when the plants are young, tender, and their nutrient balances haven’t fully stabilized yet.

The best way we know to get a healthy plant right out the gate is with our Regenerative Soil Primer before planting.

“One of the best crops of eggplant I ever saw had soil primer in both fall and spring and was effectively flea beetle free, with gorgeous plants,” said AEA consultant Nathan Harman. “The grower had another field with a still very nice plot that had only received a fall primer. Across the road was another grower’s eggplant crop with no primer at all, covered in flea beetles.”

Often, though, we need to employ all the techniques we can—this will include using our mycorrhizal seed coat, BioCoat Gold, when seeding and transplanting with an AEA solution, and feeding AEA foliars early on, of course, to grow it out of its tender phase more quickly. Use row cover for sure—it’s not perfect, but can really keep the pressure off while plants establish. 

Sacrificial plants, weaker greens or other “catch” crops that flea beetles are attracted to, can keep the beetles off your high value crops for long enough. Really seek out higher quality seed, it makes a difference in very early season plant performance. 

There are growers who use discretionary but well-timed organic insecticides. This is not ideal, but if that gets the flea beetles off early enough to allow the plant to really grow to level four of the Plant Health Pyramid, then keep taking these next best steps forward.
 

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Thanks for reading! 

At AEA, our consultants work with growers to build comprehensive crop programs using liquid minerals and biological products. Reach out to our team today and take the first step towards a healthier & more profitable farm.