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Sprouts, and the Hunt for What’s Been Eating Them

June 3, 2010

So much is happening in the garden, it’s to forget what is planted where. It’s usually best to label, but some sprouts are easily identified. There’s no mistaking this sprout.


My veggies are sprouting well, squash, beans, cucumber, even the sunflowers. Trouble is, many are being devoured before they even get a chance at growing. The beans are looking lacy and only stubby stems remain where once there were cucumber seedlings. I’ve also been losing lettuce to premature death. I thought I had cutworms in the spinach, that moved on to the lettuce, but after a bit of investigating, I have another suspect.

After last year’s perfect conditions for a population explosion of slugs and earwigs, I was careful not to leave any mulch in the garden over the winter and clean out as much of the leaves as possible. It’s not easy. Any wind deposits more leaves in the garden. They catch on the fences and around the raised beds. Still, I knew from experience that allowing any kind of mulch to remain in the garden is as good as building an upscale bed and breakfast for pests. Anything I plant becomes an all you can eat buffet.

The warmed early. Spring clean-up went well. Cool season vegetables were planted. The garden was looking good. Some veggies sprouted and took off, radishes, broccoli raab, lettuce. Then, trouble started. The chard and Asian stir fry greens seemed to sprout and then disappear. The spinach sprouted and seemed to be growing, then never grew any bigger than an inch tall, for weeks. Some of the little spinach seedlings pulled right out without their roots. I suspected cutworms, but couldn’t find any in the soil. I finally turned it under to prepare for summer planting.

Then, the lettuce closest to the spinach started wilting. When the lettuce along the edge wilted, the next few plants started wilting. Here and there one of the wilted babies pulled right out without roots. I still couldn’t find any cutworms. I became ruthless and started pulling out anything that didn’t look completely healthy. I put my gloves on and sifted through the soil looking for those darn worms. I didn’t find any cutworms. No, what I found was earwigs.

How could this be? I cleaned out all of their hiding places. All of the compost was added early and turned into the soil. I have since learned that they don’t just live on the soil, under leaves and mulch and rocks and such. They also live in the top few inches of soil. Yay. 😦

I’ve begun dusting with diatomaceous earth. They still finished off the last of the cucumber seedlings last night. I’m not happy. Cucumbers are the garden fairy’s favorite. I don’t have any more seed for one of the varieties. I’m going to try starting new seed in peat pots and getting them off to a good start before putting them in the garden. This didn’t work last year, but I didn’t know the enemy then. While the new batch of babies is getting started, we’re going to war.

The battle plan:

traps – Put rolls of newspaper, small cardboard boxes, and toilet paper tubes out at night and dump the enemy into hot, soapy water in the morning. I found a recipe at Garden Guides for bait to use in small dish traps: 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon molasses, 1 tablespoon dry yeast and 8 ounces water.

diatomaceous earth – Sprinkle liberally on the dirt (mix in?) and dust on plants.

beneficial nematodes – I don’t know if they help with earwigs, but I’ve been meaning to order some anyway.

marigolds – These are among the earwigs favorites. From the ones already planted among the veggies, I can see where the problem spots are the worst. I have more marigolds started in a tray. I can sacrifice them for the benefit of my baby cukes, but what’s the best way to do it? Do I plant them to attract the pests away from the garden or plant them with the new cukes to keep the pests distracted? Will they just move on to my babies when they’ve devoured the marigolds?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2010 3:23 pm

    Well, I didn’t like earwigs before, and now I REALLY don’t like them. I do hope that you will be successful in your attempt to get rid of them. I have made the mistake before of not labeling my seedlings. I kept getting my cucumbers and pumpkins mixed up 😉

    PS. Thank you very much for your kind comments.

  2. June 6, 2010 9:50 am

    I remember having a TERRIBLE time with slugs last year, too. I went out nightly at dusk and kept track of how many I picked off my plants. I usually averaged in the range of 100 slugs pulled off and I did this nightly for weeks!

    I tried diatomacous earth last year and I don’t think it deterred the slugs at all.

    One thing I do is wrap the base of each seedling stem with tinfoil to keep cutworms (or whatever) from chomping through the stem. You just reminded me I now need to do that with all my squash seedlings and my cukes. Have you tried that?

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