This week’s seasonal lower temps have been glorious, but the lack of rain continues to plague the health of my gardens and lawn. Creepy crawlies of the worst kind are coming out in droves and heat stress has caused most of my lettuce to bolt and turn bitter. I have one tiny tomato plant setting tiny fruits, and already the predators are ready to pounce on their lovely flesh. Other Yard Farm clients have also reported sighting the dreaded tomato suckers (the Chupacabra of the insect world?): leaf footed bugs. So far we’ve mostly noticed the nymphs: bright orange bugs with black legs, found in a tight cluster on the leaves of peppers or tomatoes, or nearby plants. Try not to confuse leaf footed bugs with assassin bugs: their nymphs look similar, but assassin bugs are more solitary. As a general rule: a cluster of nasty looking bugs are probably nasty. If the drought continues along with the intense heat, we can look forward to many more generations of leaf footed bugs and other garden pests and diseases. Review these tips and be for-armed!
Leaf Footed (Stink) Bugs.
Image Copyright © 2006 sashajade
Leaf Footed Bugs are nasty animals that like to suck the life out of our lovely plants. Their nasty proboscis nose/tongue/mouth part stabs into lovely fruits like lemons, tomatoes, peppers, legumes and sucks out the good stuff. What you’re left with is red tomatoes covered in dimply green/dry spots- sometimes completely dried out on the inside. It is both lame and not tasty. This is another reason that i pick my tomatoes right at blush – get them inside into the safety of the house! Once you’ve learned to identify the culprit – do all you can to destroy them, or else they will try and destroy you!
(Note: i don’t spray for bugs. Occasionally i use Neem for squash borers and DE for slugs etc. These guys make me WANT to resort to spray – but it really doesn’t work that well anyway and kills beneficial insects and may harm lizards and other insect predators. Besides, who wants to have to WASH their tomatoes before you eat them? not me.)
This is what they look like as nymphs (babies):
They are most easily identified as being clusters of tiny red nasties. Assassin bugs look a bit similar and are good guys – so don’t kill them. Their babies are more solitary – so it’s the cluster of red bug that’s the good giveaway on who to kill. The long egg chain is also a good giveaway. Assassin bug eggs are more like clusters:
There are several kinds of assassin bugs – lots of kinds actually. Here’s one of the guys from my garden:
Learn to identify the bugs in your garden: it’s super fun, and it’s important to know who are the good guys and who are the bad. All bugs, of course, have their place in the ecosystem – but one of the other reasons i hate the leaf footers – nobody likes to eat them! They’re just too nasty! They’re like the Klingons or Borg of the bug world (woops, just outed myself as a Trekky) Chickens won’t eat them. The turtle won’t eat them. Wild birds don’t even seem to go for ‘em. So, you ask – how do i combat these nasties without spray?
A. Vacuum cleaner
B. Cup of soapy water
C. Old Srirachi Sauce bottle filled with soapy cayenne infused water
These are my tried and true methods:
A: Take an old vacuum cleaner or shop vac outside. Aim and suck! It’s great fun to suck the adult leaf footed bugs off of your tomato plants. Early in the morning is best: they’re sleepier then.
B: Fill a cup with some soapy water. The soap breaks the surface of the water so that they can’t swim on top. Hold the cup below the bugs and tap them from above: they usually drop down when disturbed and will drown in the water. Mwa hahahaha. The problem with this method is that they can also just fly away. Vastly irritating. That and you end up with gross smelling cups of dead bugs all over the garden, well i do at least – perhaps i should learn the joys of TIDYING up after myself?
C. Fill an old Srirachi Sauce bottle with some water that’s been infused with garlic and cayenne pepper, or just soap. Aim and shoot. It takes some practice, but the soapy water will usually tangle up their legs and drop them to the ground. This technique seems the least effective.
It may only be May, but the bugs are already out. You can use these same techniques for harliquin or squash bugs too, by the way. The harlequin bugs finally found my kale plants. Sigh.