Tiny Holes: A Maddening Tale of Battling the Flea Beetle


By: Joshua Jones

Turner Farm Community Garden Manager


Walking through my spring garden a few years back, I spotted tiny small holes in some of my radishes. At first, I paid them no mind. Tiny holes, tiny problem I thought. I went on with my day in the garden without another thought of it.

A few days later, I noticed more tiny holes. I gave it a quick investigation, didn’t see any leaf munching critters anywhere and I again went on with my day. The sun was shining, the crisp spring air was blowing carrying bird songs along with them. Who had time to think about tiny holes in radish leaves?

Then it all changed while harvesting my arugula. Much to my dismay, I noticed MORE TINY HOLES! This would not stand, this could not stand, not in my arugula. Radish leaves, ok, but something is now attacking my arugula—my one and only love arugula.

A full investigation was now launched. No suspect would go unquestioned. I looked around my garden, and there were tiny holes on my broccoli, eggplant, collards, cabbage, and of course my prized arugula. I poured through my arugula with a fine-toothed comb until finally I spotted it! The hideous beast responsible for all of these tiny holes. He was roughly 1/16th of an inch, no bigger than a grain of sand. He was an iridescent black and made huge leaps in the blink of an eye. As, I looked closer, I found another, and another! They were everywhere.

After some research, I found this monstrosity of nature on a gardeners most wanted list. There he was, in a color mugshot, staring at me from my computer screen. The Flea Beetle. Him and his gang had been terrorizing gardens all around the country. Hiding out in the winter just to reemerge in the spring in larger numbers than before.

The traditional option was to spray with a chemical that would destroy them, but would also kill soil microbes, my beneficial insects, and have a huge impact in other areas of my garden. This is never an option for me. I am a soil steward, and the health of my soil does not get put into jeopardy for anything. There had to be another way.

After more research about the life cycle, feeding habits, mating habits and more, I approached the offender using the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) pyramid. Despite this powerful tool in my arsenal, this was set up to be quite the battle. After all, the flea beetle likes to lay its larvae in the top two inches of your soil, under old plant debris or any rocks or boards, to overwinter and feast the following year. They also complete at least two full generations in a year. This means the population of these dastardly characters grow exponentially! They had many tricks up their sleeves to survive in my garden.

The battle raged on for a couple of years. They won some battles by making my crops into swiss cheese. I won some battles, decimating their population into the last wounded and starving survivors just to have them bounce back in numbers the following years.

To this day, I know they are lying in wait, just waiting for their moment to spring back up. I finally found a combination of methods to keep these beasts at the gate and off my arugula.

Using the IPM pyramid, I can now successfully keep these monsters at bay using an array of techniques all while keeping the health of my garden intact. It takes a little planning and work but pays dividends in gorgeous produce and a happy healthy garden.


Learn more about Joshua’s Integrated Pest Management practices in his class on the subject at Turner Farm on February 21. 

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