Mid-August is about the time of year when we really begin to see the Harlequin bug show up in our gardens. Widespread in Southern regions, Philadelphia and Chester County are about as far North as this pernicious pest has managed to establish itself.
The Harlequin bug is about the size and shape of a stink bug (with an armored shell protecting retractable wings) and earned its name because of its bright, distinctive coloration.
Harlequin with checkered costume
Harlequins are attracted to all plants within the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family (cabbage, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, etc), and can cause severe crop damage if left unchecked.
The good news is that they are easy to spot at every stage of their development. The bad news is that there are few options for controlling their spread in an organic manner (detailed below). With harlequin bugs the best defense is a good offense, and you can do for your crops a huge favor by catching them early.
If your garden has any of the crops listed above, take time on a regular basis to check the leaves carefully. Often you will find pests hanging out on the underside of the leaves, so some diligence is required. Once you’ve located any harlequins, they can be disposed of either by crushing them or by using the following method.
What you’ll need: a cup or glass of soapy water. A little bit of dish soap is sufficient to break the surface tension of the water, which means bugs sink instead of float when they fall in. Only fill it halfway to avoid spillage.
Harlequin bugs employ a defense mechanism of letting go of the leaf when they feel threatened, so by holding the cup of soapy water underneath them and slowly approaching them with your finger they usually drop right in. Otherwise they can be knocked or flicked into the water. If they do drop to the soil they can be picked up and put in the water. They don’t sting or stink when handled.
Egg formation on stem
Egg formations come in clusters of twelve and look like two rows of black and white barrels. They can be found on the underside of leaves and stems. The clusters are hard to the touch and with a little nudge will detach en masse from where they are fixed to the plant material. They can be dropped into the water or otherwise removed from the garden.
If the nymphs have emerged from their eggs it is much more difficult to get them into soapy water, so crushing them is recommended. If you are squeamish about tiny creepy-crawlers, it helps to have a napkin or paper towel on hand.
Emerging harlequin nymphs
Again the amount of damage a well-established harlequin population can inflict on your garden is incredible, so keeping them from getting the numbers in the first place is the name of the game.
Weeds shriveled! Bugs scurried! The compost pile flipped its lid!
Triskeles was thrilled to help organize the first ever Garden Olympics at SAP America on August 16th. SAP America held its largest Take Your Child To Work Day, with nearly 300 young people in attendance. There were many opportunities to learn about how “The Future of Work is Now” at SAP America, but three groups rose to the challenge of Olympic greatness when they visited the garden.
Four separate events were held, and over 100 youth competed for garden glory. Each of the three visiting groups arrived at different times of the day and the children chose which event they would participate in.
The Bug Hunt tested diligence and attention to detail as contenders searched the garden for bugs, nymphs, larvae and egg formations.
The Weed Pull saw the youth rack up points as weeds were pulled from the raised beds. Extra points were awarded for weeds pulled up by the roots and for entire beds cleared of weeds.
The Compost Turn was a test of strength as pitchforks and shovels were used to turn over two huge piles of compost in the allotted time.
The Hoe Down pitted armed children against pernicious grass clusters growing through the woodchips, with points awarded for piles of the unearthed invaders.
Here are the results:
In the Bug Hunt, the Olympians in the Red group took the day with 288 points. The Yellow group had 148 and Orange had 131.
In the Weed Pull, the Red group had a whopping 922 points for first place. Orange took silver with 728, followed by Yellow with 683.
In the Compost Turn, the Orange group proved their worth with a heaping score of 320. The Red group followed with 280 and Yellow with 275.
In the Hoe Down, the Red group narrowly won with 279. Yellow came in a close second with 255 and Orange had 167.
For Total Garden Glory, the Red group captured the gold with a final combined score of 1,769; Yellow earned a silver with 1,361; Orange proved their worth and won a bronze with 1,346.
The big winner of the day was undoubtedly the garden itself, which will surely benefit from fewer weeds, a more active compost pile, and many garden pests located and removed.
At a certain point, one young contender asked “aren’t we just doing your garden chores for you?” Triskeles staff replied, “Yes, but you’re getting points!” We don’t always get to see the fruit of our labors, but the garden at SAP America offers that opportunity for those who are willing to put in the time and effort.
SAP America has been a partner with Triskeles and a member of the Food For All program since 2013. During that time the garden at SAP America has produced over 10,000 pounds of organic vegetables, almost all of which has been donated to local pantries and food banks. This effort to address food insecurity in our area is a central aim for the Food For All program, and we are proud to have SAP America as a partner.
Results like these don’t spring up from the ground unassisted; it takes time and dedication to have this kind of impact. The Garden Olympics gave the children a snapshot of the kind of work done regularly by a small group of incredibly dedicated volunteers at SAP America who have championed the garden and this partnership from the beginning. With the commitment of people like David Brennfleck, Jeff Schweriner, John Franke, David Greenland III and Megan Herrschaft, among others, we wouldn’t have such amazing numbers to boast about.
Thank you to all the champions who make the garden flourish the way it does, and thank you to SAP America for championing our cause!