Soap Suds and Potato Bugs
Updated: Sep 26, 2018
Chronicles & Confessions of the Veggie Patch
An unfolding adventure tale of amateur vegetable gardening, peasant style.
-With detailed steps for establishing your own organic vegetable garden.
Series Post 5
“We need to dig up the potatoes.”
“Why?” Max asked.
“Because I don’t want them to rot, and I think the plant is dead. If there’s no green on the potatoes, we can eat them,” I added.
The leaves had shriveled worse. Now there was hardly anything left to them. Furthermore, it appeared that bugs had chewed openings in the stems. Little black dots were scattered throughout. Bug poo perhaps?
Sources said that potatoes are ready for harvest when the plant dies back. This was a premature death though, I knew. Nevertheless, I was curious to know what our potatoes looked like at this stage.
There they were. Two of them at least. If there were more, we couldn’t find them in the muck. (Too much watering of the garden soil I presume?) The potatoes were just tiny purple eggs without a fighting chance. They were attached to coils of yellowed stem that was half rotted away. We were not eating them.
In the beginning of this journey, I hadn’t noticed many buggy pests. I wondered if we were lucky for some reason. I had been dreading the bugs. That was one aspect of nature I didn’t look forward to getting used to. What bugs I had seen so far, I accepted somewhat readily. After all, the garden was outside. Bugs are outside. What are you going to do?
But after examining my dead plant, I recalled seeing little black bugs no bigger than fleas traveling up and down the stems not long after we had brought it outside.
“Those are called potato bugs,” Max’s dad told us sometime later when I described what I had seen. “Oh well. You learn as you go. All soil is different.”
I had learned alright. My potatoes would be grown inside the house from now on! (Confession #10- I assumed bugs were natural, so I let them kill my poor, innocent plant without doing anything to stop them!)
I have Irish roots, you see, and I like potatoes to really beef up a meal. So this winter is going to be filled with lots of traditional Irish stew for Max and me even if I must buy potatoes. Of all our plants, I had really wanted the potato crop to work out the most.
But the trouble didn’t end with the potato plant. I had seen the black bugs and other kinds of bugs on some of my other plants, too.
As serendipity would have it, Mom had bought me a book for Christmas a few years ago by Dr. Miles H. Bader called Dr. Bader’s Pest Cures: Natural Solutions for what Bugs You. Never had the book been quite as handy as now!
Aphids. Now the tiny black juice buckets had a name. These micro-vampires had no real plant preferences, either. They weren’t only “potato bugs.”
“If you see ants traveling up and down a plant, they are probably harvesting the honeydew from the aphids,” writes Bader.
Ants on my plants? Yep.
The book went on to list several defensive strategies. Everything from introducing predator bugs to adding aluminum foil to confuse them.
Per one of the suggestions, I put together a spray of 1 Tbsp. canola oil, 3-4 drops Ivory soap and 1 quart of water, and immediately spritzed the top down and bottom up of my plants making sure to spray the underside of the leaves. I plan to do so after every rainfall and if I notice bugs. (Apparently you aren’t supposed to spray away good bugs, referred to as “beneficials,” but everything is getting sprayed. Nothing gives me the heebie jeebies more than bugs. Besides, have you ever seen a closeup photo of a “beneficial” ladybug eating an aphid? *shudder*)
“Soapy water,” my Dad said later, affirming the book. “Just put a little bit of dish liquid in the watering can once a week or so. Just enough to keep them away. Bugs don’t like the smell of soap.”
A lot of other articles I had scanned gave similar suggestions. Therefore, the underlying theme for pest control across the board is SOAP!
It makes me wonder if the ancients and the medieval peasants used the same technique? Soap was once likely made from plant compounds that could create a good lather, and later, as now, from fats and oils mixed with lye.
Nevertheless, it’s interesting that the pests which seek to drain and feast on our garden plants ultimately destroying them are repelled by the thing that makes us clean. Another special agriculture analogy perhaps?
For instance, we took our nephews on a hike on Sunday afternoon to visit what has been dubbed “Thompson Rocks,” a village of boulders discovered by my Dad as a boy. I mentioned that the gnats were not bothering me as much as they seemed to be bothering Dad and Max.
“Did you recently wash your hair?” Dad asked me. “They won’t bother you as much if they can smell the soap. They don’t like the smell of soap.”
There it was again – the idea that soap in general repels bugs. It seems that the “cleaner” something is, the likelier the enemy will be repelled.
Sounds familiar. Jesus tells us that whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness. (John 8:12) Or, the brighter your light shines, the darkness wants no parts of you!
The world sometimes seems so full of corruption that we feel it’s impossible not be tainted by it. We misunderstand the Christian-ese phrase to “be in the world but not of it,” letting the things that will destroy us get close enough to crawl all over us. In reality, all we need to do is walk closely with Jesus. His light within us will naturally handle what’s coming at us, even without our always being aware.
That’s a great thing because we aren’t always going to know the bad bugs from the good bugs. Sometimes a diagnosis may come too late. If we make sure we’re sprayed down with some Jesus though, the bad bugs aren’t going to hang around much because they won’t like what’s emitting from us.
Friends, may your light shine in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. (John 1:5)
By the way, we didn't just deal with bugs this week. Just to let you know what else we’ve been up to with our little garden, we also separated the plants that seemed to be crowding one another. Yes, we even bought real potting soil from Lowes for the task!
We transplanted the extra tomatoes into their own containers. We also staked the plants since we didn’t have cages for all of them. Max had some spare wooden rods in the garage that could be used for this purpose. After investigating online, I had learned that tomatoes can be tied loosely to stakes so to be trained to climb them. The ties go under the stems of leaves rather than above.
We also transplanted the herbs into separate containers after learning that they can grow to be quite large. Rosemary especially can become a huge bush! (Confession #11- Until now, I had no idea herbs were anything more than weed-like ground cover that taste good and have some potential healing properties, not that each herb is its own various type of large plant – and normally a huge flowering one!)
I moved the herbs inside since a few of them didn’t look so great. I knew they often lived on people’s kitchen window sills well enough, so I hoped that a table indoors by some windows might be a better home, and hopefully mostly free of pests!
(Also, I have already started learning how to harvest the herbs. I’ve made two dishes with basil. I’m glad that I researched harvesting basil when I did, because I was apparently letting the plant get too tall. Post 6 will be about harvesting and cooking with herbs.)
All in all, I’ve found that what Arabella and Randy said is true so far – once established, the garden takes little work. Every time I walk by the growing plants, I can’t hardly believe it. It’s not about our gardening skills; we know that for sure! The plants and elements of the environment are simply doing what they were designed to do. With the exception of learning experiences here and there, the promise is holding true! You reap what you sow!
May all your sowing in life be positive and fruitful, and may your soap of all kinds be plentiful!
Next up – the first instructions on harvesting! Remember, Randy says that if you grow nothing else, grow herbs.
Meg is a writer, dreamer, church secretary and member of her church council. When she is not working in ministry, she spends her days uncovering secrets of the historic past and trying to snatch as much free time as she can to pen her book ideas. Meg is committed to living a healthy lifestyle according to what she understands from God’s Word. She drags everyone that she can along for the ride, especially her husband and pets.