Heirloom Expert: Stink Bugs Run Rampant

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Photo by Doug Oster
The Rescue Stink Bug Trap, with a range of about 30 feet, uses pheromones to attract the insects.

Here in the east (Virginia), stink bugs have become a major problem; and it seems there is very limited information on what to do about them. Last summer, they decimated my squash and melons, ruined more tomatoes than I can count, and chewed up my bean plants. By late summer, there were so many stink bugs crawling around in my garden plot that the ground appeared to move! I tried the typical “green” methods of control, but there were just too many stink bugs; they simply overwhelmed my garden (and me). The only plants they didn’t bother were my Hungarian peppers and okra. Do you have any suggestions about eliminating these garden-destroying living machines? Frankly, they’re so terrible I wonder if Monsanto developed them in a lab somewhere to discourage home gardeners!

Brown marmorated stink bugs are an invasive species discovered in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s. Now the insect can be found in over 35 states. Since it’s invasive, there are no natural predators and the pests can run rampant and infest our gardens.

Stink bugs will feed on just about anything. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, vine crops and many flowers can be devastated by the bug. They have sucking mouth parts, which make them hard to control. Since they can’t chew leaves, organic pesticides, like Spinosad, are ineffective.

The main control for home gardeners is trapping. The Rescue Stink Bug Trap is probably the most popular, but there are other brands too. The trap uses pheromones to attract the insects. Since its range is limited to around 30 feet, the trap attracts pests already living in the garden, not from the next county. It should be put out early in the season to catch as many adults as possible. Later in the season, the trap will also catch younger bugs that go through many different stages on the way to adulthood. Since immature insects can’t fly, the trap is positioned touching the plants so the younger insects can climb into it. I’ve actually watched as the bugs have run up into the trap hoping to find a mate.

Stink Bug Killer is an organic spray from St. Gabriel’s Organics that uses wintergreen oil as its main ingredient. The product will kill the pest, but will also burn the leaves of plants, so must be used in the right situation.

Hand picking can be effective, too. Knock the slow-moving pests into a jar of soapy water. Research continues in an effort to discover other ways of controlling brown marmorated stink bugs.

As gardeners, we see spikes in populations of insects and diseases increase in virulence. Hopefully, over time, native predators will discover stink bugs and put the balance of nature back in place.

Doug is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Backyard Gardener (www.post-gazette.com/gardeningwithdoug) and co-host of The Organic Gardeners radio program on KDKA.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
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