It’s easy to see the immediate damage caused by leaf-munching caterpillars, but the damage from underground pests can take several weeks to appear, sometimes too late to save your root vegetables. Carrots (Daucus carota var. sativus) and beets (Beta vulgaris) are susceptible to some serious underground pests. Good cultural and sanitation practices, along with biological intervention, can ensure a healthy harvest from your garden.
Despite its name, the seedcorn maggot is a pest of several vegetables, including beets. This 1/3-inch long larva of a small gray fly infests germinating beet seeds and small beet seedlings. If your beet seeds fail to sprout, it could be a sign of seedcorn maggots, especially if the weather after planting is cool and wet. Use fabric row covers over the seedbed to prevent adult flies from depositing eggs. Once the plants are established with a few leaves, seedcorn maggots are no longer a threat and you can remove the covers.
Adult vegetable weevils, which are beetles with well-developed snouts, and their larvae feed on all parts of carrot plants. Vegetable weevil larvae are about 1/3 inch long, green, worm-like creatures that feed on carrots underground. Chewed carrot leaves could be a sign of adult weevil feeding. If adults are present above ground, larvae are likely underground. Carrots infested with weevil larvae are inedible. Use sticky barriers to prevent weevils from moving around the garden and further damaging your carrot crop. Drench the soil with beneficial nematodes (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora), available online or from garden suppliers in powder and sponge formats. Soak the sponge in a bucket with 2 quarts of water. Squeeze the sponge to extract all the nematodes and then pour the mixture into a watering can. Add another gallon of water to the can to dilute the nematodes, then drench the area with the mixture. Keep the soil moist for the next week to establish the nematodes in the soil.
Light brown, up to 1-1/2 inch long, with harder bodies than typical larvae, wireworms are the immature form of click beetles. They feed on seedlings and roots and can bore into carrots. Once established, there is no effective treatment for these pests. Till the soil long before planting to expose existing wireworms to predators. Flood the area to kill any remaining pests prior to planting carrots and beets.
Some nematodes are beneficial to carrots and beets by killing off pests, but others are detrimental to these vegetables. While not insects, soil-dwelling roundworms are an underground pest of carrots and beets, causing stunted plant growth, wilting and warty swellings on the roots. Prevent the spread of nematodes by cleaning garden tools with alcohol or a bleach solution. Rotate carrot and beet plants each season with nematode-resistant varieties of other vegetables, such as tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) or beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).
About the Author
Jean Godawa is a science educator and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than 15 years. Godawa holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She has conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of southeastern Asia and South America.
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