Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beetles, Berries and Buffs

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Japanese Beetles ... they're every gardener's nightmare. These pests (similar in appearance to a June bug) have been in the United States since 1916, supposedly carried into our country inadvertently on plants from Japan. Since their introduction, they have been slowly making their way across the United States. I can't think of an insect I detest more and they arrived in full force to my Midwest garden about four years ago. At the gardening clubs I belong to, each avid gardener can tell you the exact date they saw their first beetle (and what plant it was destroying).

The adult beetle dines on more than 300 plants, with its favorites including: roses, grapes, crape myrtles, fruit trees, berry brambles, linden trees and Japanese maples. They defoliate the plants or trees by eating the tissue between the veins of the leaf, leaving the leaf with a lacy, skeletal appearance. The larvae, or white grubs, feed on plant roots and organic matter in the soil (they're especially fond of turfgrass).

Control of these beetles is limited to a few options ...

  • Hand-picking and destroying the beetle is the cheapest organic method, but with thousands of beetles present at one time this option is limited in its effectiveness.
  • Plant selection: When possible, remove the beetles' host plants and replace with plants/trees that are not on their "favorites" list.
  • Japanese beetle traps work by emitting a scent that allures the beetle to the trap. You'll end up with a bag full of beetles, but this method can actually attract more beetles to your area.
  • Apply an insecticidal spray before their arrival and then reapply as needed when the adult beetles are present and active.
  • Organic control (aimed at controlling the Japanese beetle grub) includes milky spore, nematodes and a naturally occurring bacteria (Btj) added to the soil. These methods are somewhat expensive, especially if they need to be applied to a large area. In most cases they take a few seasons to be effective, but once established they'll control the beetle infestation for several years.
So what's all this have to do with chickens?

I grow blackberries, raspberries and blueberries that I love and wouldn't you know, the Japanese beetles love them too. Last year for the first time, we had to use an insecticidal spray to control the beetles and protect our precious berries. This year, however, I have my beloved free-range chickens ... who have developed quite an appetite for berries and beetles. When I open the run in the morning, they make a beeline for the blueberry bushes, jumping for any berry or beetle they can reach. If I use a poisonous spray, I would be also be poisoning my chickens.

So what am I doing to control the beetles? Hand-picking ... and then feeding them to the chickens! If you can't handle a handful of squirming beetles then you can knock them off the leaves into a bowl of water. It makes a disgusting beetle-soup that the chickens love. I've read where some chicken keepers purposely put up beetle traps and use the beetles as a free organic chicken feed. Some even freeze the excess beetles to use as a protein supplement during the winter or offer them as a cold treat in the summer.

I have to admit, I enjoy watching the beetles meet their death and it makes me appreciate my chickens even more!

Though my older Buff Orpingtons seem to prefer the Japanese beetles on my blueberry bushes, my younger flock would rather jump for the berries. Here's a video of the little girls demonstrating their blueberry-picking techniques:

To see what else is happening on our Southwest Missouri property, visit ...the garden-roof coop.


  1. Mmmmm beetle soup. I wonder if the eggs taste a little different after a menu of beetles and blue-berries.

    I often wonder about this when I dig up wire-worms and other assorted veggie foe's from my potato patch and feed to my chooks. Is there a subtle difference in colour or taste to the eggs?

    I'll have to do a test one day...

  2. Add me to the long list of gardeners who would like to eradicate Japanese Beetles from the plant, or at least their garden. Thanks for the idea: We fed the captured beetles to our chickens this morning. They couldn't eat them fast enough!

  3. Normally we have beetles everywhere, but this year they have been few and far between. I don't know why, but we just haven't had them this year much to disappoint of my feathered family.

    I have the 100+ blueberry bushes here fenced off from the birds. 100 birds have a field day in there.


  4. Very informative post, thanks for sharing.

  5. Chris--That's an interesting thought... Hopefully their eggs will taste more like blueberries than beetles!

    Jennifer--Glad your girls enjoyed their new treats!

    Matt--I agree, I definitely had more beetles last year. They've been manageable on the berries by handpicking, but every leaf on my apple tree has been destroyed. One day I saw multiple beetles on each leaf...
    (I'd like to see 100 chickens jumping for blueberries!)

  6. We didn't seem to have as many this year either. But, we purchased a beetle trap that has a zip closure on the bottom for those that we did have. It's worked great at keeping them out of the garden and the few we did find in the garden were easily picked off by hand and deposited in the trap. Our chickens run for the area under the trap when we let them out to free range and hubby unzips the bag and steps out of the way to avoid having his toes pecked!

    We live about 25 minutes west of Nashville, TN. We have JUST started having cicadas at our house, a month or more after they quit invading everything in Nashville. They came just as the Japanese beetles started slowing down, so the chickens are enjoying this additional treat, as I toss every one I can catch to them.

  7. GET DUCKS! I often laugh at the so called horticulture and gardening experts that turn chickens loose in their gardens. Chickens will eat fruit, vegetables, small veg. plants, and destroy everything in sight with their scratching and digging. I only let my ducks free range my garden as they will voraciously hunt insects and slugs without destroying plants and they rarely feed on any of the fruit or vegetables. They do not dig up the garden, but simply sift thru the soil and snatch bugs and their eggs off the plants, as well as laying eggs and leaving a great fertilizer behind.

  8. The real reason I have chickens is for their delicious eggs, an added benefit is free fertilizer and their appetite for beetles! I don't think I could talk my husband into ducks, but I've heard they're great at insect/weed control. I considered guinea fowl which are also known for their pest control, but they are quite noisy and my neighbor used a few choice 4-letter words when I mentioned adding them to the flock!--I think I'll stick to chickens!


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